Monday night, I had the weird and wonderful pleasure of watching The Ballad of Lula Del Ray, a contemporary shadow-puppet play by Julia Miller, with music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman. The music is performed by Oh+Ah. The show is hard to describe — I don’t know much about shadow-puppet work, and even now, I’m not quite sure how Julia and her fellow puppeteer Drew Dir worked their magic — but it’s a truly stunning piece.
The show tells Lula’s story — a kind of country-city journey through a desert landscape, complete with a silent, Oz-like villain — with a series of arresting images. One of my favorites was when Lula was still safe at home, swinging in her hammock, being serenaded by a guitarist (who also appeared, of course, in the score). I also loved when Lula’s destination city appeared: a towering and terrifying mass of ever-taller skyscrapers, made even more forbidding by an electro-acoustic roar of sound.
The most moving part of the show is the end. I won’t give it away (check out Julia’s website to find an upcoming performance) but suffice it to say it’s the best feminist ending to a puppet show I’ve ever seen, with a technicolor burst and gorgeous female vocals.
The fascinating textures of the music, and the amazing simplicity of the visual medium – black, paperlike figures moving slowly across a bright-white background – held the live audience spellbound at The Hungry Brain. The visual and sonic elements are beautifully merged. Big props to the artists for this one!