After cancelling last year’s visit to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater returned to once again present its annual end of summer performance of its “Domestic Resurrection Circus” on Cambridge Common yesterday afternoon.
The show of giant papier-mâché puppets and masks and a riotous live brass band “united in protest and celebration” tours to Portland, Maine, on Sept. 5; to Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Sept. 6; to Smithfield, Rhode Island, on Sept. 9; to Brooklyn, New York, on Sept. 10; to Kingston, New York, on Sept. 11; to East Hampton, Massachusetts, on Sept. 12; and to Keeseville, New York, on Sept. 13.
This year’s touring version of the circus featured a satire of the difficulties of getting a call through to Vermont’s unemployment hotline (accompanied by a dance of increasingly growly animals); a man running with a black flag for “a moment of silence to recognize the horror and chaos happening in Afghanistan” and all the hurt “we caused there”; a critique of U.S. manipulations in Haiti’s elections; a goofy dance by someone wearing a mask resembling Teddy Roosevelt dubbed “Mr. Papier-Mâché”; an act honoring the hundreds of Black people murdered in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacre of 1921 (“I still smell smoke and see fire. …. I hear the screams,” recounts a character in a skull mask); a mad “Code Red” dance in response to the dire report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year; a solemn marking of the “11 days in May Israel bombed the Gaza Strip”; a comical song and dance about a fox “that ruined a fracking site with its poop”; a giant portrait puppet of Archbishop Oscar Romero in remembrance of his murder in El Salvador in 1980; and a comedic act about billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates plotting to take over Mars after having conquered Earth—until angry Martian tigers show up and devour them. The circus concluded with the traditional act of performers running and dancing with flags.
This was immediately followed by a bit of pageant—a cast dressed in white, holding signs reading “Who,” “Why,” “Also,” “Non-Essential,” “Coffee” and so on, dancing with giant low-relief, shield-like puppets depicting crowds of people. The performers whispered and shouted, “Ha!” while waving their arms at the audience. One performer declared “Who have an ear, let them hear.” One by one the performers tried to pass through a door labeled “Here,” only to be struck down by a hammer labeled “Not here,” before the door let them through. Then the performs and people puppets seemed to fight. Then other performers rippled a large curtain painted with blue and white figures until they flew it over the rest of the cast, now crouching huddled on the ground. Finally, the cast collected the “population” puppets onto the blue and white curtain and dragged it all off stage.
Performers returned to the circus ring dressed in cloaks printed with green wheat designs and raised a giant face, painted with wheat designs, and with outstretched wings. Then they sang as a chorus “In memoriam” of Bread and Puppet co-founder Elka Schumann, who died Aug. 1 at age 85.
Finally they performed “Hallelujah,” a skit dating back to the early 1970s, when the company had just moved from New York to a residence at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. Employing giant woodcut banners by founder Peter Schumann, a performer dressed as Mother Earth, and a chorus and band, it tells how people can nurture the Earth or “put fire to the world” and “poison it” (represented by bombers pouring fire from the sky) and “The World will cry / and the children will die.”
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