By Bridgette Redman
A lot can happen in 65 years – both in the life of a couple and in the world at large.
Lansing’s Peppermint Creek Theatre Company launches the U.S. premiere of a play by Neil Bartlett and the Handspring Puppet Company, the latter being the creators of the acclaimed “War Horse.” Like the latter, “Or You Could Kiss Me” features life-sized puppets to tell the more intimate story of a same-sex couple living in South Africa as they remember seeking the courage to fall in love in the oppressive period of 1971 and imagining the future of 2036 when they are facing the death of one of the couple’s members.
Director Scott Crandell found both the story and the way it was told compelling and something he wanted to stage when he was approached by Peppermint Creek’s artistic director Chad Badgero to direct as part of PCTC’s “Launching Pad” initiative, which sponsors recent graduates from college directing programs.
“It spoke to me because there is so much going on at once and it is distilled into a simple and intimate story,” Crandell says. “There is a lot of political undertones of South Africa and gay rights and themes of memory and aging and of death and of love and of love beginning and love enduring. It’s all told through a relatively simple story of a couple facing death. The story is told through, in part, puppets – that is how it is facilitated, and the show gives us an opportunity to look at this through a lens we don’t often see (through).”
Badgero was intrigued by the way the story covers so much time and tells of how things are changing in our world, particularly for same-sex couples.
“We’ve done quite a number of plays that jump in time, showing how ideologies have changed, particularly homosexuality. ‘Pride’ is a recent one,” Badgero says. “We see the difference in these two men from when they were younger to when they were older.”
He said that Michigan is a perfect place to tell this story because of its social and legal status concerning same-sex marriage.
“I still have living grandparents who remember the ’50s, when no one talked about it,” Badgero says. “That’s changed. And for audiences, it will resonate how the issues of same-sex marriage and couples is so quickly changing before our eyes.”
Whereas the risk of being in love in 1972 is dangerous in South Africa and could result in death, their life changes in 2036, when same-sex relationships are a non-issue.
“In South Africa in the ’70s, they were more militant about same-sex couples,” says Badgero.” In that regard, the two guys have a lot more secrecy and fear and danger in developing a relationship.”
The puppets used in the PCTC show were designed and created by Crandell, something Badgero said was ideal because he got to design them specifically to fit his vision for the play.
“(The playwright) was so articulate in this script about why the puppets were being used and why it has to be a puppet,” says Badgero.
Crandell agreed, saying the puppets become the medium by which the middle-aged couple can remember the past and imagine the future. The puppets embody the concepts of memory and imagination.
“There are scenes in this play that are important to everyone,” Crandell says. “They are important and timely in terms of our rights, and it gives us the chance to reflect on our lives.”
Or You Could Kiss Me
Jan. 22-Feb. 1
Peppermint Creek Theatre Company
Miller Performing Arts Center
6025 Curry Lane, Lansing