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Open: 03/25/10- Close: 04/11/10 Thirst: Memory Of Water
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

Jonathan Slaff ©2020  A fish is part of the Hindu deluge story. Puppet by Jane Catherine Shaw. Performers: (L-R) Spica Wobbe, Margot Fitzsimmons, Sheila Dabney.

"They have the truth but not the water; we have the water but not the truth," observes an American woman serving on aid missions to Haiti and Palestine, whose firsthand account is one of many presented in THIRST: MEMORY OF WATER.  Conceived, written, and directed by acclaimed puppet artist Jane Catherine Shaw, THIRST highlights the scarcity of water in many parts of the world, and shows how the burden of gathering water, often in treacherous conditions, falls to women.   It's an eye-opening exploration of a resource too easily taken for granted.  

THIRST begins with this image:  seven women dressed in pastel silk crouch over large pails of water, washing clothes.  Another woman stands on the catwalk, hanging clothes to dry.  The stage floor is painted blue, stenciled with fish and plankton. Six Bunraku-like puppets stand on either side of the playing area, three on each side.  Suddenly, disarmingly bouncy music sounds.  The women pull flower-covered shower caps out of their buckets, put them on, and abruptly break into a joyful pastiche of Esther Williams's aquatic ballet extravaganzas, complete with kicks and inane smiling.  Then, just as abruptly as it began, the song stops.  The "narrator," (Sheila Dabney, fresh from RED NOIR at the Living Theater) gradually transitions to Leonardo DaVinci's "Treatise on Water," while the other performers unfold a large cloth of silver lame, transforming it into an ocean.  This is how THIRST unfurls--like water, it fluidly transitions from one moment to the next, flowing with grace and assurance.  It seamlessly weaves eye-witness accounts, the cast's personal experiences, folktales, religious stories, essays, music and movement.

Jonathan Slaff ©2020  A life-sized puppet represents Ganga, Goddess of Ganges. Puppeteers (L-R): Margot Fitzsimmons, Eva Lansberry (hidden), Spica Wobbe and Cybele Kaufmann.

Shaw and her cast use nearly every type of puppet imaginable on every scale, large and small, to represent stories from across the globe.  Bunraku-style puppets recreate real-life accounts of women carrying heavy pails of water across miles of dangerous terrain to their families.  There's also  shadow puppet animals (memorably glimpsed in  jungle), rod puppets (as seen in the growing fish of a Hindu folk tale), and innovative, original creations.  Ganga, the goddess of the Ganges, is larger than life, a mass of fabric operated by several puppeteers, who suddenly unfurl the silken folds of Ganga's skirt to create the Ganges River.  During another startlingly beautiful sequence, a fetus suddenly emerges from the dark, made of clear plastic and illuminated by flashlights.   In one of the evening's funniest images, tiny paper cut-outs tied with pins to a cardboard circle represent burly construction crews digging water tunnels beneath present-day New York City.

New York is awash in water-themed theater at the moment (A COOL DIP IN THE BARREN SAHARAN CRICK at Playwrights Horizons, WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING at Lincoln Center), but THIRST: MEMORY OF WATER creates its own, indelible visual universe.  It's politically-engaged puppet theater at its very best.  

La Mama (first Floor Theater) : 74A E. 4th Street