by Tony Adler
Spring 1988. The Spanish puppet company Comediants is onstage at Park West and a 26-year-old Blair Thomas is in the audience having a revelation. “I saw that show and I was like—I had never seen anything like that in my life,” he remembers. “It just cracked open a window for me as a young artist.”
Thomas climbed through that window to start the late, great Redmoon Theater and, more recently, Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater. He’s also working to open more windows as artistic director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, having its second biennial run 1/19-1/29 at various sites around Chicago. There are thrills on the other side, he claims: “When I create” a puppet or performance “it leads me to a place that I could not have even predicted. And that, to me, is really exciting. I love to grab its coattail and follow it to a place that I’ve never been.”
Among the festival’s foreign guests are Chile’s Silencio Blanco, telling a miner’s tale in Chiflón, el Silencio del Carbón; Norway’s Plexus Polare, probing an arsonist’s psyche in Cendres; and South Korea’s Geumhyung Jeong, using dance and puppetry to find the “boundary between the body and the machine” in 7 Ways.
The array of featured locals includes Michael Montenegro, applying his extraordinary sensibility to the genius of Prague in Kick the Klown Presents a Konkatenation of Kafka. The estimable Stephanie Diaz and Jessica Mondres are at the Cultural Center with an “object- and film-based” installation called Portmanteau. Rough House is bringing back one of my favorite shows of 2016, Ubu the King. And Chicago-based stars Manual Cinema are applying their unique style of visual storytelling to an adaptation of Edith Nesbit’s 1910 children’s fantasy The Magic City.