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"Toil and Trouble" brings drama, humor, and puppets to a Shakespeare classic

A scene from Trouble Puppet's "Toil and Trouble"
A scene from Trouble Puppet's "Toil and Trouble"Trouble Puppet Theater Company

Toil and Trouble

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From classic horror to sci fi epics, Trouble Puppet Theatre has translated many pieces into puppet productions, including several historical events, but perhaps none has been quite as ambitious as their latest, a foray into the Scottish Play, “Macbeth”, one of Shakespeare's darkest and most revered works. Before walking in, we question how this old English language of Shakespeare day will sound coming out of the mouths of puppets, and how the intensity and dramatics will translate to the world of cloth, poles and strings. However, the moment the lights come up on Trouble Puppet's production of “Toil and Trouble”, all doubts are assuaged as you're swept into the horrifying, yet frequently humorous, world of Shakespeare's Scotland, as dreamt up by one of the best creative minds in the city.

Director Connor Hopkins has once again called on the usual suspects, including regulars Gricelda Silva, Caroline Reck, and Zac Crawford, but he's also brought in some new talents, but the newcomers perform as well as the old hands from the first time they appear. The performers are forced to work a little harder this time around, as they're forced to not only move and manipulate the puppets, but also give off the beautifully grandiloquent language of the bard. Even without puppets, Shakespeare's prose can be hard to perform, let alone doing it while making a doll move believably, and yet the actors do just that, creating true emotion from these bits of cloth and wood. This is never less true when we see the three witches, which could not be more simply built (simply a wooden/Styrofoam head covered in glow-in-the-dark paint), but which provide quite an effect as the play opens. The way the puppeteers sway and zoom with their puppets gives the characters gruesome life, and when you add the finely crafted voicework of the actors to the mix, you find a chilling creation.

"Toil and Trouble" provides a rare chance to stand back and take in the acting prowess of a few of the performers, and in the process you see just how much of a talent Caroline Reck, giving off a moving and emotional performance as Lady Macbeth, which is only magnified by the fact that she's hidden behind a puppet. Respect also must be paid to Zac Crawford, who takes on the title role, and who brings a pleasant balance of horror and empathy to the role to create a truly dynamic performance that any flesh-and-blood actors would be proud to give. Providing a pleasant dose of humor (many times at moments when it is most needed) is Gricelda Silva as the voice behind King Duncan, who she plays as a kind of doddering old fool, in a hilariously fake accent that one can't but chuckle at from the first word. This is just a small sampling, as their is a huge number of actors on hand that create amazing complex and dynamic performances throughout.

One of the real thrills in seeing a Trouble Puppet show is the wonder of taking in one of the best production teams in the industry, full of some of the biggest awards winners in the city creating visual and aural wonders. International award-winner Graham Reynolds once again steps in as composer, crafting fierce and throbbing tunes to keep the action going in the play, even as soliloquies fill the air. In an instant, he sets the mood perfectly, even before the lights ever come up. Also responsible for the establishment of the mood is lighting designer Stephen Pruitt, whose work has been seen all around the city in various productions, and who here helps to create an eerie ambiance that permeates the piece, upping his game especially as the witches whirl and dive, using several impressive tricks to keep the audience on their toes. Finally, we must give due respect to designer Monica Gibson, who realized that even though she was dealing with puppets, there was no reason not to dress them with skill. The costumes in the piece are believable, yet whimsical, in keeping with Scottish attire while still giving a glimpse into the heart of the character. In one very important scene, Lady Macbeth is clothed in a deep black dress after talking of dark deeds to be done, and Gibson's costume is of the utmost important to the audience's understanding of the depth of her evil.

With just a few puppets, and some simple backgrounds, Connor Hopkins has created one of the best interpretations of Macbeth to hit stages in quite sometime, bringing all the action, drama, horror, and yes, even humor to the small scale world of puppets. Hopkins has pushed his actors to places they may not have ventured before, but they come out on top to very memorable performances throughout, in the end creating a work that may be held up as one of the company's best.

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