You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Stage Review

Bread and Puppet Theater revels in political protest and pageantry

In “The Possibilitarians,” a giant papier-mâché figure towers over cast members of Bread and Puppet Theater.

Ashley Marinaccio

In “The Possibilitarians,” a giant papier-mâché figure towers over cast members of Bread and Puppet Theater.

The annual Cyclorama visit by Bread and Puppet Theater seems like the love child of Revels and Occupy Boston.

The Vermont troupe’s sixth residency at the Boston Center for the Arts, through Sunday, is a multi-generational gathering for music and dance and theater, like Revels. It is also an occasion for decrying greed and oppression in politically charged terms, like Occupy.

Continue reading below

Thursday night’s program featured striking theatrical rituals of hallucinatory beauty and earnest exhortations for humanity to battle the darkness in the world. There were segments that skated past the avant-garde into inscrutability. There was a rollicking brass band. And a giant, ugly, papier-mâché Uncle Sam got booted in its bared keister.

If all that sounds a lot like Sixties street theater, well, bingo.

The striking beauty comes from the giant puppets, masks and other visuals created under the direction of Peter Schumann, who founded Bread and Puppet on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1963. With his gray beard, long gray hair and striking, deeply lined faced, Schumann embodied the troupe’s history, looking on from a folding chair at the edge of the performance space and occasionally picking up his violin.


He noted that the evening’s first play, “Dead Man Rises,” was performed as part of the student occupation at Columbia University in 1968. The story was a sort of fable with roots in Noh drama, performed here with life-size puppets — cast members in oversize robes with papier-mâché faces — and both puppets and backdrops were in black and white. Dialogue was provided in creepy and sometimes inaudible whispers by other performers just outside the lights. It was simple, striking, weird . . . and low in intelligible meaning.

The second play, “The Possibilitarians,” began with brilliantly simple stagecraft, as the Sky, a huge blue puppet of papier-mâché and fabric, rose to loom over the audience. The Bread and Puppet crew and a cast of local volunteers cavorted about in an array of hilarious and/or frightening masks, and then there was a sweetly funny lesson on the key uses of hands and feet, from caressing and embracing to kicking the government’s behind.

At the end, Schumann walked onto a stage littered with the bodies from a battle of good and evil. He fiddled a scorching solo and exhorted them — or maybe us — to rise up and continue the struggle. It was a potent close to an idiosyncratic show that was absolutely worth seeing, even when mildly baffling.

Joel Brown can be reached at
jbnbpt@gmail.com.
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.