Sunday, January 18, 2009

What We Eat: Tiny Ninja Theatre

Welcome to What We Eat where we take a look at the books, movies, and plays that have influenced the direction of Playlab NYC.

Tiny Ninja Theatre Presents:
Romeo and Juliet

Chris Head and Melanie Hipchikz as Romeo & Juliet (promotional poster)

You are moving into a land of between classic drama and found object puppetry. You've just crossed over into...Tiny Ninja Theatre.

Armed with the company’s motto of “There are no small parts only small actors” founder and puppeteer Dov Weinstein uses miniature plastic toys to present forty-five minute versions of some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.

Founded in 1999 Tiny Ninja Theatre made its debut with Macbeth at the 2000 NYC International Fringe Festival. In the nearly ten years since then Weinstein has added Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet to the troupe’s repertory. Tiny Ninja Theatre has also created a backlog of original shows as well including A Brief History of D.U.M.B.O. and The Effects of Nuclear War, and they have presented their performances all over the world.

A couple years ago I had tried to get tickets for a Tiny Ninja performance of Hamlet at PS 122, but the show had already sold out. I was finally able to check out Tiny Ninja Theatre last week, when 92Y Tribeca presented Romeo and Juliet. Located at 200 Hudson Street in New York City, 92YTribeca is the 92nd Street Y's new arts and entertainment venue.

Entering the playing area dressed entirely in white, Dov Weinstein leads a cast of not only tiny ninjas but an “assorted dime store figures” as well. A good puppeteer, Weinstein invests his performing objects with life by giving them total focus. He absorbs himself in the figures, like a child playing with his toys except with much better diction. It is difficult enough to clearly speak Shakespeare’s lines, but the performer makes it even more challenging by taking on 18 speaking parts himself.

There is a lot of wit to be found in the staging. The prince addresses the crowd from on high perched on the visor of a baseball cap. Outside Juliet’s balcony is a grove of trees made up of green plastic forks and spoons. The apothecary is a skeleton key chain, an obvious figure of death that got a laugh. Weinstein indulges in some pop culture short hand. The audience knows that the prince is ineffectual because he speaks with Elmer Fudd’s voice, just as they can tell Tybalt is a bad ass because a tiny figure of Bruce Lee takes the part.

I was startled by how low tech the show was. While the performance is very polished it maintains its low-tech charm, shunning a service gloss that would be easy to achieve after so many years of performance. White boxes suggest the different locals, sometimes opening up to reveal miniature sets contained inside. The unveiling of the Capulet’s disco ballroom yielded applause the night I attended. Each box is self-contained with doubles and triples of each of the cast members, allowing for quick transitions and a minimum of misplaced actors.

What surprised me was the lack of camp. Romero’s meeting of Juliet’s at the Capulet’s party is tender and intimate. When Romeo discovers Juliet in the crypt Weinstein cups a jewelry box with her body in his own hand and takes on Romeo’s role drinking the poison from a cup. Like all children at play the performance is very earnest.

I still want to see the Tiny Ninja cast in Hamlet though.

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