‘Open Door,’ a Grand Puppet Theater Work with Song

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Man in chair Design by Federico Restrepo
Design by Federico Restrepo for Open Door

While opinions range from “open door” advocates of free immigration to “closed door” advocates of zero immigration, there is a corresponding “paranoia versus hope” dialogue on whether our national policy can ever be resolved. That “paranoia versus hope” mindset descends heavily upon the community of recent immigrants and is inspiration for “Open Door,” a grand puppet theater work with song, being prepared collaboratively by Colombia-born master puppet theater artist Federico Restrepo and award-winning composer Elizabeth Swados. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the work November 16 to December 3 in its Annex Theater.

Restrepo is known for puppet theater productions which mix the soul of Colombia with his experiences living in NYC.”Open Door” centers on a displaced Colombian living in an apartment building which houses many other recent immigrants. There will be ten other characters representing peoples from diverse cultural backgrounds: North American, South American, African, Middle Eastern, European and Asian.

Utilizing original rhythmic music, live musicians, dancers, body puppets and larger than life marionettes, the piece will explore the paranoid perceptions, longings to belong and feelings of alienation among the immigrants. The production is mostly an urban fantasy set in the buildings in which they live. Its central metaphors all derive from the paranoid perceptions that keep new immigrants and naturalized citizens “Americans” from seeing clearly, as well as the immigrants’ search for the “American Dream” that can propel them into a more hopeful future. Puppet theater provides an articulate medium for contrasting the immigrants’ inner and outer realities.

There are eighteen-foot apartment buildings where, in each window, a large marionette is attached to a dancer downstairs, as if to say, “I am myself, and the puppet attached to me is my background.” There are life-sized body puppets, like doppelgangers, who are “the ghost on your shoulder,” embodying the background and past you carry around with you like baggage.

There is also a massive weltanschauung scene where governments and corporations suck through straws from a huge plastic globe, on which are projected images of war and catastrophe. Video segments deal with the literal metaphor of an “open door” – people opening a door to leave a house, to cross a threshold, to run away, to confront the other side, to search for something new, etc, choosing closed-mindedness or open-mindedness.

The main set will transform constantly, revealing where these characters came from, the struggles that lead them to their new home and the life they now experience as strangers in a strange place, which can often be overwhelming. The characters ask, “Will we ever fit in and be accepted as “real” Americans or will we be stuck facing the same issues that drove us from our homelands?”

“Open Door” is conceived, designed, choreographed and directed by Federico Restrepo. The music is composed by Elizabeth Swados. Lyrics by Federico Restrepo, Elizabeth Swados and Denise Greber based on interviews with the cast. They are mostly sounds, mixed with languages of all the countries.

“Open Door” plays November 16 to December 3, 2006 at LaMaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street. Shows are Th-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20. Box office (212) 475-7710, online ticketing available at www.lamama.org. For further information, visit www.lamama.org.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.