Created by: David Commander and Rob Ramirez
Written & Directed by David Commander
An exploration of middle-class American fears acted out through puppets and digital media should have been a great way to pass a Friday night. Instead, Fear in the Western World was forty-five minutes of confused political jabbering that left this reviewer wondering if anyone told David Commander ‘no’ at any point in his career.
Among the many questions raised by this piece was ‘who is this for’? Anyone already on the side of the text, who understands the liberal views of gun control and gentrification, does not need to sit through a disjointed puppet show where the characters descend into an Underworld-esque labyrinth and meet people crying over dead children. Likewise, it is hard to imagine an actual conservative or standard middle-America moderate taking a chance on something so experimental. This gave the entire production and air of ‘look how smart and edgy I am’.
The show may have been saved by the experimental layout. The puppet had screens for faces, the miniature cardboard set transformed and was moved throughout the piece to fill various parts of the warehouse theater, and one of the lead character wasn’t a puppet at all but a crouching person who held a three way camera. Surrounding the space was three larger screens which showcased this character’s point of view.
Unfortunately, the puppeteering was minimal, with the camera shots focused almost entirely on the screen-faces. The cardboard sets (while admittedly charming) seemed to cause movement and coordination issues several times. Perhaps the cast could have used more rehearsal time with them? The sound quality was often muffled and hard to follow, though that could have easily been due more to the open space than actual sound design.
The script itself jumped between being in its own world and commenting on being a performance. This did not feel meta so much as lazy. Like the author was giving a beta reader notes as they went through the first draft. Toward the end one character (a screen upon a screen) even shouted ‘see what you’re looking at’ repeatedly while also listing the names of people who had been killed by police and vigilantes (Trayvon Martin the most recognizable among them), and it was frankly overwhelming.
The one star of this review goes to some of the visual moments. The journey through the catacombs really worked when the camera and set movements synced up. While the use of a fat suit is never appropriate, the POV shot of an end…monster? Creature? America? Whatever it was it was effective, even if it was unclear what narrative purpose it served.
If you find yourself in Sunset Park, you could go see this. Some members of the audience seemed genuinely pleased with it so maybe you will be too. Otherwise, I would recommend going to a matinee of Cats or maybe donating your money directly to Black Lives Matter.
Runs Until 19 January 2020