‘The Wars of Heaven Part 1’: A well-crafted wonder of puppetry

Trouble Puppet is never one to rest on their laurels. They could easily just half-assedly throw something together and still pull in the crowds on reputation alone, but they come back year after year with original, intriguing tales based on everything from science fiction novels to historical events. With their latest, Trouble Puppet, led by award-winning director Connor Hopkins, begin what looks to be their most ambitious project yet, a three-year trilogy of productions called “The Wars of Heaven”. Part one follows a pair of paranormal figures as they make their way through the great battles of history, and along the way we’re taken on a wildly imaginative ride.

As we begin, the audience finds themselves thrust in Stalingrad in one of its most bloody skirmishes, where we’re soon introduced to the protagonists of our tale, one demon, and one angel. We’re shown through flashbacks that these two have been in battle with each other for decades, one siding with the revolutionaries, one with the oppressors. This dynamic makes up one of the most fascinating parts of the work, as we begin to see them grow and change with their constant meetings over the centuries, and when we meet them again in Stalingrad later in the play, we see them as very changed figures.

Per usual, there is not an element of the proceedings that is not immaculately crafted. The puppets themselves are expertly designed, playing with cliches and images of angels and demons, but showing their own flair to make them something wholly unique. How the characters visually change over the centuries is also fascinating to watch, as, with each time period, the puppets take on different appearances, while remaining wholly recognizable. Also standing out is the projection design and shadow puppetry. It is always well-timed and intriguing to watch, and helps to move the story forward in an incredibly riveting way that might not be possible through table puppetry alone. Underscoring all this is the ethereal yet industrial score by acclaimed composer Justin Sherburn, who is joined by the the gorgeous voices of Convergence to give the proceedings an otherworldly feel that leaves audiences slightly unnerved.

With “The Wars in Heaven”, we’re taken on a fascinating journey through a history that it at once easily recognizable, but also wildly different, in this original take on Milton’s classic tales. The production team, led by the ever-brilliant Connor Hopkins, has truly outdone themselves, using their skills to present us with a dirty, lived in, torn apart world, and a set of world-weary, torn-apart figures to live inside it. I cannot wait to see where this tale may take us in future years as this trilogy of tales unfolds, but it’s certainly off to a great start.

“The Wars of Heaven, Part 1” is playing through May 17 at Salvage Vanguard Theatre. For more information, visit Trouble Puppet’s website at troublepuppet.com.

Image Courtesy of Jennymarie Jemison and Trouble Puppet

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