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Fringe Festival – PuppeTyranny’s outer space romp Iminami


Last year, PuppeTyranny writer/director C.W. Kennedy unleashed one of the most surreal yet engrossing shows of the 2011 Fringe Festival. “Water Bears in Space” followed the fantastic journey of a family of tiny tardigrades, also known as Water Bears – moss-dwelling creatures whose size tops out at 1.5 millimeters, and who have become notable to modern science for having survived unprotected trips into outer space.

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Mary Wood (left) and Kate Black-Regan. Photo by C. Kennedy

This year, Kennedy brings her eye for offbeat storytelling to PuppeTyranny’s Iminami, running through September 21 at Greensaw Design’s Northern Liberties warehouse as part of the Philly Fringe Festival.

While the biggest tsunami known to man (here called the Iminami) threatens to demolish coastlines on both sides of the Atlantic, a mercenary troupe of scientists led by Riley (Amanda Grove, along with a chorus of trembling puppets) has been researching to ensure the survival of the world’s richest people. But the scientists decide to hijack a waiting spaceship for themselves in advance of the disaster, and arrive on the Saturn moon of Enceladus.

The rest of the story unspools in parallel worlds. We meet the scientist’s lithe and lonely teenage daughter, Janet (in utero at the time of her mother’s departure from Earth), struggling to grow fruit in Enceladus’s bitter soil. Meanwhile, the cheeky high-schooler Rene Junot is earthbound, having survived the Iminami as an infant when her parents (Angela Smith and Rob Cutler) headed inland.

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Angela Smith as Lydia Junot, Rene’s mother

Rene and Janet, who have more in common than they know, meet over a forbidden inter-planetary walkie-talkie, each longing to flee their worlds. Rene (Kate Black-Regan, channeling a fiery Ellen Page) battles her mother’s manic cruelty and her pharmaceutical magnate father’s medications, communing with a knapsack of dead squirrels. Janet, the youngest person on Enceladus, dreading the day that she’ll be the only one left, is desperately curious about her mother’s secret project, known as RUMMP.

Theater newcomer Mary Wood proves a standout in the role of Janet, who performs most of her dialogue while entwined in stunning aerial silk routines, with a sweetly deadpan, rapid-fire delivery that never suffers for her physical contortions. She warns Rene that an apocalypse isn’t a disaster in itself: it’s “the revelation of something hidden.”

The inspiration for writer/director Kennedy’s latest extraterrestrial romp comes from two albums by the band Voodoo Economics. According to Kennedy, the albums have a decidedly peculiar narrative, and she adapted their characters and ideas into her own interplanetary saga, with the help of a sparkling cast who often double as the operators of a crop of puppets as grizzled and sinister as they are wacky and funny. Pop-jazz noisemakers Upholstery (also onboard for “Water Bears in Space”) provide a live score.

The makeshift warehouse setting suits Kennedy’s stark creativity, and the production’s haphazard aesthetic belies the sheer number of settings and props demanded by Kennedy’s bizarre yet satisfying vision.

“Iminami” ($10) continues its Fringe Festival run at 820 N. 4th Street on September 12, 17, 19, 20, and 21 at 8pm. Tickets are available through the Fringe Festival website.

Alaina Mabaso, African bride and goldfish parent, has been on the Philadelphia art and theater scene since 2007, when she tried becoming a writer and nobody told her to knock it off. When her editors go to bed, she writes and illustrates a blog that her mom fears is too revealing.