Walk into most any theater, and what will you find? Actors hanging around, of course. Walk into the lobby of Detroit’s Matrix Theatre, which is also serving as the backstage area for its latest production, and that’s EXACTLY what you’ll see: half of the cast strung up on hooks.
No, the Righteous Right hasn’t initiated an Inquisition to execute wayward thespians. Rather, they’re the characters that populate “Puppet Scrooge,” an original adaptation of the Dickens’ classic that Matrix hopes will become an annual family tradition in Southwest Detroit.
Although larger-than-life, parade-worthy puppets have been a part of the Matrix repertoire for many years, “Puppet Scrooge” takes the company in a different direction. The multi-media show, which previewed last Friday night and officially opened the next, is the culmination of two longtime dreams executive director Shaun Nethercott has had for her community-based theater: an indoor, adult puppet performance and an original play with holiday themes. “Puppet Scrooge” accomplishes both – and more.
“It’s a ‘here and now’ version of ‘Scrooge,'” Nethercott told the Friday night crowd before the performance. And it certainly is. Set in the theater’s Southwest Detroit neighborhood, Ebenezer has been transformed into Pecunia Scrooge, owner of the local Kwick Kash store. When asked by high school students for money to buy uniforms and band instruments, she screeches, “I pay my taxes, and school taxes are high enough.” She then unceremoniously evicts them from her shop. But the tightwad is given a chance to change her destiny when her deceased partner sends three ghosts to show her the past, present and possible future. And what she sees isn’t pretty!
Development of the play began a year ago, Nethercott explained, and like all Matrix productions, it was accomplished by pulling together various groups and individuals from within the community to work towards a common goal. The script was written by the theater’s Collective Playwrights Workshop, and once finished, the Detroit Puppet Guild came aboard to design and construct the puppets. Assistance was also provided by the nearby PuppetART Center. The results are the most elaborate puppets ever built for Matrix – ranging from traditional hand puppets to rod puppets. And plans call for the construction of even more puppets in the years to come. Finally, the dozen or so live actors and puppeteers include established local adult professionals, eager and talented youngsters, community elders and others.
The results? Well, to be quite honest, the preview performance didn’t go well – thanks to “a technical kerflooey at 7:10,” an apologetic Nethercott revealed during her curtain speech an hour later. (“Be kind,” one of the performers begged when I first walked in the door.) Yet everyone persevered and tried their best under difficult circumstances – especially the beleaguered tech crew that was scurrying about prior to the performance trying to resolve the problems.
But there’s plenty of fun in the script – although some judicious tightening is still needed – and the puppetry is generally quite good. (Young Andy Tilson manipulates Timito – Tiny Tim – like a pro.)
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
Matrix Theatre, 2730 Bagley, Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through Dec. 16. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-967-0599 or http://www.matrixtheatre.org