Janie Geiser & Co. | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Janie Geiser & Co. 

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Puppets seem to wield a primitive fascination. Part of the brain sees that they're just creations of paper, wood, or cloth, but another part wants to believe they're alive. It isn't Pinocchio who yearns to be a little boy--it's us, wishing to return through the medium of Pinocchio to the playfulness of childhood. Janie Geiser's cardboard cutout figures attached to metal rods remind me more of paper dolls than puppets. And the elaborate sets she created for Evidence of Floods, the piece her company is performing here, are reminiscent of the complicated cardboard houses my sister would assemble for her dolls--which after all are just puppets without strings. But where a good puppeteer plays with our childish associations, a great one like Geiser works against our infantile regression, layering adult associations on top of nostalgia for childhood. Haunting and beautiful, Evidence of Floods tells a very adult tale of ennui and anomie and urban angst: its characters lie in bed, dream, sigh, meet in coffee shops, consider suicide, plan murders, fail to connect, and engage in the ten thousand aimless conversations and activities that make up a lonely city life. When the catastrophe alluded to in the title comes, it's a relief--a great upsurge of grief too long repressed. Also beguiling is the obvious craft that goes into Geiser's every puppet and piece of scenery, each a carefully wrought work of art. We can see that her characters are little more than figures on a stick, but the pieces are so well made that part of us can't help but feel they could come to life and tell their stories without the aid of their puppet masters. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, performance space (room 012), 280 S. Columbus, 773-722-5463. These walk-through performances begin at 15-minute intervals in the time periods given below. Thursday, June 1: 7 until 9:30 PM. Friday, June 2: 7 until 10 PM. Saturday, June 3: noon until 2:45 PM and 7 until 10 PM. Sunday, June 4: noon until 2:15 PM and 7 until 9:30 PM. $12. --Jack Helbig

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