Dreams From an Upside Down Man, at the Chicago Cultural Center. A certain wonder attends even the crudest puppetry, a magic born of the art’s literal take on the objectification inherent in performance. This unfortunately can engender shows weak on content or technique–or, as in writer-director Michael Montenegro’s Dreams From an Upside Down Man, both.
Matters are worse on the first count. A seeming corollary to the puppetry-as-panacea fallacy, at least as practiced in Chicago, is the belief that a vague surrealism can stand in for meaning. This show invokes that notion on many levels–but bad freestyle dancing in ogre masks is still bad freestyle dancing, and calling a piecemeal collage a “dream” doesn’t make it any more viable.
The style echoes the anemic substance, with a few exceptions. Much of the puppetry and movement is uninspired, tending in its simplicity to highlight how little is really going on. A rickety shadow-play sequence in particular is so rudimentary in structure and execution one wonders why the company even bothered with it. On the other hand, the rod-puppet work is adept and often funny, as is a battle between a hand and a hand puppet. Certainly this bit’s formal twists are light-years beyond the rest of the material; overall, the show’s musical accompaniment–as is often the case with such fare–is similarly superior.