Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival: Manual Cinema’s Mementos Mori

The inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival started opening weekend with sold out shows of Mementos Mori at the Edlis Neeson Theater in the MCA. Created by Manual Cinema, a Chicago based troupe, Mementos Mori is a reflection on death and endings, humans and technology.

You would think that the subject would be terribly morbid, and well, it is at times, especially when the sound design weighs down on your spirits with a bass note low enough to be a physical pressure on your chest. But it can also be lighthearted. Interconnected plots overlap for laugh aloud moments as you follow Death, a ghost, an older man, and a young girl over the backdrop of modern L.A. It contains a few points familiar to the usual narrative of death and the afterlife; ghosts, grim reaper, and omens merge with our technological today and the nostalgia of yesterdays. However, with a reimagining of the custodian of death as a brisk, Hepburn-esque woman, and incorporating the pervasiveness of technology— of course Death would have a smartphone— Mementos Mori is a delightful variation on the call of mortality.

This is not what you would normally expect from a shadow puppet show. Besides weaving a complex narrative, Manual Cinema gave the audience a cracked-open theater experience of watching the cast dash across the stage to alternately manipulate puppet pieces and become human shadow puppets with expressive silhouettes. Mementos Mori itself is very cinematic in composition, with expressive silhouettes, a gorgeous score (performed live!), and beautiful projections of L.A. with dreamy, colorful skies. It’s akin to watching an old silent film with live accompaniment. You can read an interview with Manual Cinema here.

If you think shadow puppetry is pinching your fingers together to make a bird, you are wrong and should go watch Manual Cinema (well, you’re not too wrong but you could definitely expand your horizons a bit). For more information on Manual Cinema’s terribly awesome works, visit their website.

Opening weekend has come and gone, but the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival will last from January 14th – January 25th. You can find their whole lineup of fantastic productions and events on their website.

(And remember to submit your own reflections of life to Memoryhouse Magazine, and watch out for our own Memento performance ensemble’s upcoming performances!)

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