STORIES FROM HERE at Dance Theater Workshop

Puppets will always be associated with childhood entertainments. But like the jugglers and clowns popularly called new vaudevillians, Janie Geiser's Atlanta-based Jottay Theatre represents a low-tech response to mass culture and multimedia performance. She's a storyteller who uses puppets to explore how little information it takes to engage the imagination (of children or adults). In "The House," the piece Geiser co-wrote with Neill Bogan that forms the first half of her hour-long show at DTW, a young mother named Vi becomes so agitated over tensions in the Persian Gulf that she leaves home and spends her days in the library trying to figure out how to solve them. Her mental dislocation is portrayed with extraordinary subtlety; except for the three people closest to her, all other figures are two-dimensional; the melodic fragments of Chip Epsten's haunting score keep looping back on themselves; Vi's nightmares are populated by the human faces of the puppet manipulators at her window; you don't realize she's in a hospital until she mentions that her cohort John "couldn't quite concentrate because of his medication." The piece is beautiful and unsettling, like a crayon drawing of a broken heart. "The Fish," based on a Russell Banks story, also portrays a misguided attempt at social responsibility, but its satire of land despoilers is clumsier, its depiction of a (literally) bucket-headed colonel's irrational fear of nature more obvious. Still, conjuring a pond out of the space between two stepladders is typical of Geiser's shrewdly minimalist storytelling.

7 Days, March 22, 1989