The quietly innovative Hand2Mouth Theatre's last production, Wild Child, was notable--among many things--for its reliance on a simple wooden puppet. Having demonstrated the raw power basic puppetry can still wield in this modern world, Hand2Mouth has moved on to an even greater challenge with their current production, Mysteries of the Heart. Directed by Michael Griggs from a script he penned with Chris Harris, Mysteries of the Heart is a collection of darkly funny folk tales from a smattering of different cultures, grounded in a traditional Polish theater technique wherein characters are represented by what are basically stiff, wooden dolls.
With excellent Hand2Mouth company members Erin Leddy and Faith Helma on board, as well as veteran local stalwarts Ben Plont and Ted Schulz, the performances in Mysteries are exuberant and committed. Playing an array of storytellers, animals, and spirits, the actors weave seamlessly through an odd collection of folklore from around the globe, including a funny Yiddish morality tale, ("One-Quarter of My World"), eerie Native American spirit-world sagas ("Coyote and Eagle Visit the Land of the Dead), and stories from the decidedly bleak Brothers Grimm ("The Old Man and His Grandson," "The Messengers of Death").
For those who fell in love with the expressive wooden boy puppet in Wild Child, the decidedly less expressive carvings that pass for puppets in Mysteries will take some getting used to. At first, it seems that the actors are just carrying the figures around with them, like footballs--weird props to hang on to as they race through the quirky stories. But eventually, a more compelling relationship between object and human materializes: the stiff figures represent the physical world, and the humans are their spirits. If anything, the figures portray the ultimate Mystery of the Heart: the true nature of our bodies. We are lumps of matter given life and breath by something outside ourselves, something that we will never understand.