Every once in a while you see something that makes you go, “Hunh. That’s new.” It’ll have lots of elements you recognize, but also some that seem entirely strange, and the whole thing will unwind in a way that catches not only your attention but your breath.
That’s how I felt on seeing Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava last summer.
All shadow-puppet plays necessarily look at least a little bit alike, so it was familiar in that respect. And the subject matter—an exploration of what happens when inseparable old twins are finally parted by death—seemed redolent, picking up on ingrown-sibling lore that runs from the pixilated sisters in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town through the murderous ones in Arsenic and Old Lace to the weird ones in Macbeth (with a side trip to the hoarding Collyer brothers of books, plays, movies, and reality). What took me by surprise was the Dante-esque journey undertaken—part willingly, but part not—by the devastated surviving twin, Ada, as she tried to master her loss. A visit to a traveling carnival yielded twisted images and false exits worthy of the hall-of-mirrors shoot-out in The Lady From Shanghai.