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State of the Union

Bread and Puppet takes on Bush’s horrorists
By GREG COOK  |  February 6, 2007

The puppets

Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater rolls into town next week with a carnival of political art whose main event is the not-very-family-friendly puppet pageant The Battle of the Terrorists and the Horrorists. Americans, Schumann says by phone from the theater’s home in Glover, Vermont, “are being told a hell of a lot about the terrorists, and they don’t realize that terrorists are just a tiny little fraction compared to the gigantic faction of the horrorists. The terrorists happen to be illegal and the horrorists are totally legal and are running our lives in a fantastic way.” His main target is the Bush administration, but his protest extends to many of the powers that be, from a co-opted press to “wishy-washy Democratic measures that the Democrats are now talking about, which are typically not doing anything about the war but just slapping Bush’s wrists.”

Schumann founded his company in New York in 1962 by cross-breeding gargantuan papier-mâché puppets, performance art, masks, ritual pageantry, avant-garde dance, and street protest. The “bread” refers to home-baked loaves smeared with garlic that members of this landmark anti-war theater of the Vietnam era serve after performances. At their best, B&P’s papier-mâché plays leap over reason to where inchoate emotions lie. Schumann’s influence ranges from the ubiquitous giant puppets of protest marches to Burning Man to Broadway’s The Lion King. Yet as is the case with a lot of anti-establishment types, the 72-year-old’s achievement is often overlooked.

Great political artists require great political events. So September 11, our bungling response, and the drowning of New Orleans have prompted some of B&P’s sharpest work. The performances have been elegies — Iraqi women cradling corpses, planes made of people crashing into buildings made of people.

The new show offers B&P’s trademark visions: a herd of white deer, a skeleton man, a chorus of newspaper readers, a giant foot, a great sailing ship, a towering puppet deity. Versions of the show I saw in Vermont and in New York last year included dark jokes like the “Collateral Damage Dance,” but this is an angry show by a troupe incensed that the very problems it was protesting three and four decades ago are back. This time around, cardboard puppets march off to war crazily. “What do we have?” “Nothing!” “What do we want?” “Everything!” “What do we need?” “Victory!”

The Battle Of The Terrorists And The Horrorists | Bread and Puppet Theater | Boston Center for the Arts Cyclorama, 539 Tremont St, Boston | February 15-18 | $12; $10 seniors, students | 866.811.4111

On the Web
Bread and Puppet Theater:

  • The Gadfly
    Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann is a national treasure. Maybe that’s why George W. Bush wants to bury him.
  • Print the legend
    Providence’s ‘Wunderground’ and MassArt’s ‘Crafty’
  • Fact and fantasy
    Walid Raad’s installations seek the “truth”
  • More more >
  Topics: Theater , Peter Schumann , Terrorism , War and Conflict ,  More more >
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