Puppets of Evil

photo by Andy Walsh

The scenario is cribbed straight from a first person action game, or a “B” thriller of the ilk of Predator: a band of mercenaries on an undefined nocturnal mission, tricked out in high-tech gear, in the remote depths of a forest in Russia. It’s a premise guaranteed to trigger a Pavlovian adrenaline gush in all genre junkies. Out of a few standard tropes—a shadowy corporation, a dangerous performance-enhancing drug, a magical MacGuffin, unsettling apparitions that might be supernatural or the product of a mind under stress— playwright/director Andrew Parchman has crafted The Feast, a fantasy drama around philosophical questions that nest deep in the mythology of modern times: what is the nature of power, and what are its true costs?

Joe Riggenbach portrays the platoon leader, Craven, as almost machine-like in his pursuit of the job. He clashes with black ops specialist Raimi, played with athletic grace by Alex Roy. Roy also choreographed the spectacular concluding fight sequence between Raimi and Craven, which far surpasses most stage combat in both naturalism and martial arts “wow” moments. We’d like to see more like this in the future, please! Craven attempts to murder Raimi with a dose of the psychoactive drug “ink,” but Raini escapes into the wild, where he encounters an inhuman entity in the form of a sinister, if garrulous, luminous floating larva-like creature, that, Mephistopheles-like, offers him great power—for a price, of course.

photo by Andy Walsh

Parchman hits all the right narrative beats: setting up the story, sketching out characters in quick strokes, providing comic relief by Will Hughes, as a not-quite-ready-for-the-big-time soldier of fortune, and Brian Rott, in a rare naturalistic performance as a Russian fugitive. The rest of the players have just enough individuality as to not seem like stereotypes. The puppet creatures, by Parchman again and Jeff Holub, are high-grade nightmare fuel, particularly the giant bipedal insect that stalks the stage while calmly discoursing on the difference between love and power. A techno soundtrack sets an exciting computer-game vibe. Over-long scene breaks cut into the forward momentum a bit, but the elements are all present for a gripping philosophical thriller.

The word “myth” is often used today to contrast false irrational belief with scientific truth (“Trust Data, not Lore”). But myths can also be repositories of a culture’s foundational wisdom, encoded in the language of symbols. Pop culture keeps coming back to the same tropes again and again, like a massive disembodied computer crunching on the dilemmas that our culture has yet to resolve: questions about technology, identity, community, and value. Things that science can’t address, like, how can we live as authentic human beings when our strings are constantly being pulled by economic and technological forces beyond our control? Perhaps that’s why the show ends with a terrifying question.

The Feast thoroughly and entertainingly manifests this mythic dimension of the sci-fi/ action genre. The atmosphere, humor, creepy puppets, and the boss battle at the end, are altogether well worth the price of the show.

Quasimondo Physical Theatre presents

The Feast

written and directed by Andrew Parchman

playing through October 5