Reviewed by Fiona Bessey-Bushnell
The world renowned Cashore Marionettes’ Life in Motion at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre of Virginia at Willow Lawn is an amazing performance. Puppet master Cashore uses the marionettes to tell a series of breathtaking and thought-provoking stories with amazing talent, artistry, and illusion. Although there are minimal words to the show, the individual skits are seamlessly choreographed to music. Each skit or story is a few minutes and exhibits everyday triumphs, humor, and sadness. Audience members experience a wide range of emotions and I laughed (the gut-splitting kind) and shed a few tears as well. The puppets are so expressive, dynamic, and fluid that you almost forget that they are puppets. The audience hung on every movement; you could hear a pin drop during the scenes.
Joseph Cashore designed and fabricated the marionettes, their clothing and all of the props for the show – an art form in and of itself. One of the more complex marionettes incorporates 42 different strings to demonstrate natural and realistic movement. A former professional oil painter, Cashore is an expert in studying the mechanics of common movement, which, as he puts it, “experiments” with making his marionettes realistic. As an 11-year-old, he caught a glimpse of a movement from a marionette that he had made. It was this movement that made the marionette seem alive. Cashore explains that at this moment, he recognized that the experience was not about the appearance of the marionette, but the quality of the movement. The rest is history.
Familiar life scenes in Life in Motion, include a whimsical story of a boy flying his kite, where the intricate movement of both boy and kite captivated the audience. I felt like I was right there with them; I longed for my own kite. Another amazing scene exhibits Maestro Janos Zelinka playing his violin. The manner in which Cashore orchestrates the sophisticated strings on this puppet makes the audience feel like they are in a true symphony of motion, with realistic bowing and the ebbs and flow of the music.
A familiar scene to many of us portrays an exhausted mother trying to lull her baby to sleep, where Cashore artfully is the puppet master for not one but two puppets, demonstrating the outward exchange of love, fatigue, and maternal instinct in the dark of the night.
Cashore treated the audience to a talk back at the end of the show. Children and adults alike posed questions about the mechanics, artistry, and history of the art of marionettes. After a two-hour performance, many kids even stuck around for an opportunity to speak to Cashore, and it was clear that these kids picked up on the nuances of the performance and were engaged, enlightened, and genuinely wowed! The show, aptly called Life in Motion was exactly that – captivating life stories that just happened.
Still not convinced? Check out The Cashore Marionettes – Watch Promos As amazing as the video is, the full scope of the magic just isn’t the same as being right there in this intimate setting. And don’t be surprised if the show pulls on your heartstrings!
Staged at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn, there are two shows: Life in Motion and Simple Gifts. Life in Motion is a two-hour performance (with intermission) and I would recommend it for middle schoolers and up due to a few somber life scenes. Simple Gifts is a 70-minute show (with no intermission) for all ages (recommended 4 and up and for those that can avoid talking during the scenes). Many of the skits are the same for both shows. However, Simple Gifts does not include most of the sad vignettes.
And as an added bonus, Cashore plans to do a Q & A after each show. Visit Virginia Repertory Theatre for ticket information and showtimes and experience the Cashore Marionettes through Sunday, October 13.