A familiar presence in New York’s avant-garde performance community, Theodora Skipitares combines puppetry with installation art in her new piece Underground, making its midwest debut this weekend. In just over an hour, Underground visits a variety of real and mythic subterraneans. Among them are Hades’s bride Persephone, an immortal Egyptian mummy, Count Dracula in his earth-filled coffin, baby Jessica McClure in her well, a nuclear family in its nuclear fallout shelter, and a 60s antiwar radical who went, yes, underground during the Vietnam war. These characters, whose peculiar monologues comprise the work’s text, are portrayed by doll-like puppets (manipulated by visible puppeteers from New York and Chicago) who inhabit tiny, detailed environments designed by Skipitares (the fallout shelter, for instance, is stocked with miniature cans of V-8 and evaporated milk). The diminutive size of the “actors” and the bizarre pathos of their stories invites the audience’s voyeuristic superiority–in order to challenge it. Underground launches Randolph Street Gallery’s series “Manipulation: Artists Perform With Objects,” organized by Matthew Owens and Kaja Overstreet and continuing with performances by Joe Silovsky and Dina Morelli on February 5 and 6 and Brendan de Vallance and Chris Sullivan February 12 and 13. Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee, 666-7737. January 29 and 30: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 8 and 10 PM. $10; $18 for all three performances in the series.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Valerie Osterwalder.