My Life in a Nutshell (10/10/2009)
Obie award winner Hanne Tierney’s latest work, My Life in a Nutshell, doesn’t shy away from big themes. Death, friendship, jealousy, love, lust, mourning, and carrying on in the face of life’s abundant whammies make appearances in this innovative, clever, and totally absorbing forty-five-minute puppet show for adults. Yes, you read correctly: Tierney’s play involves puppets—three males and two females—all of them life-size, and all of them able to convey the emotions you’d expect given the aforementioned topics.
The play opens on three black-clad manipulators standing on stage right. Their job is to move more than eighty strings attached to a vertical keyboard that controls Tierney’s creations. It’s an intriguing sight, but one can’t linger long on the manipulators’ fast-moving hands. Instead, the audience is immediately introduced to characters A, B, and C.
A is a French-speaking, Baudelaire-quoting intellectual who is in love with C. B is also smitten with the comely maiden. And the fair-haired C? She is an aspiring superstar who loves both men equally and sees herself as the third line in their open triangle.
Humor is abundant as the two men try to shimmy and shake their way into a more conventional dyad. But this outcome is not to be and in a somewhat ethereal scene, C is shot to death, leaving A and B bereft and seemingly alone. When the men eventually meet, a deep friendship develops.
All is well until they encounter D, a woman who, while “no longer young is fit as a fiddle.” At the same time, the middle-aged D has become despondent over the death of her lover, E. After A and B stop D from committing suicide, the three become inseparable.
As it turns out, D is an actor who has for years been channeling Gertrude Stein on stage. That is, she’d been doing this to consistently good reviews until the über-cool B points out that her performance is no longer “as edgy as it ought to be” and introduces her to hip-hop and live poetry. “What could have been a straight and boring life for everyone is not,” Tierney, the play’s narrator, announces. It’s a whole new world for D. Then, in a heartbeat it ends; A and B die.
It’s tragic, but despite her bereavement, D does not succumb to grief. “And D is left, and what is left is what she knows and what she knows is what she does. And what she does is Gertrude Stein,” Tierney tells the audience. This bittersweet conclusion affirms D’s fortitude while reminding us of the loss endemic to being human.
Produced by HERE’s Dream Music Puppetry Program and FiveMyles, a performance and exhibition space for under-represented artists in Brooklyn, New York, My Life in a Nutshell weaves vivid projected images and fantastic live music into the narrative. The end result is spellbinding and emotionally engaging.
See it and be charmed.