jakub | April 25, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Sometimes—There Are Puppets—So Quickly

Augustin J. Correro and Nick Shackleford with the puppets of “The Felt Menagerie.”

The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company knows how to make the most of the love affair between the writer and his beloved New Orleans. Since their first show in 2015, they’ve produced 22 shows, and last year was their largest season yet: four full productions, community partnerships, a reading, and a show that traveled to the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival in Clarksdale.

They also know how to bring some variety to the relationship—even if it involves puppets. The Felt Menagerie, running May 10-26, is a playful new take on their literary namesake. First offered for streaming during the all-virtual 2021 Tennessee Williams Festival, the show’s uproarious concept echoes the popular internet meme in which folks dream-cast popular titles with Muppets plus one human in a key role. But The Felt Menagerie isn’t modeled after any single Williams play: Instead, at a chaotic Daughters of the American Revolution meeting in the (fictional) town of Tennessee, Miss., a human Blanche “Dubious” interacts with puppet variations, designed by Kenneth Thompson, of several characters from Williams’s major works (Big “Paw-Paw,” Violet “Vengeable”).

As show creator Augustin J. Correro, also the company’s producing artistic director, explained, “By providing floppy felt-faced avatars, some of the more grotesque moments have a softer landing.” In the mouth of a puppet with the appropriate drawl, one-liners like, “Being Southern is exhausting,” bring consistent mirth. A Williams character in anguish is now a Correro character delivering a laugh.

It’s a stunt that could only be pulled off by a theatre company with a deep knowledge of and respect for Williams. Like Christopher Durang’s hilarious For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, The Felt Menagerie sets out not to mock Williams or his characters, but to give them much-needed breathing room in a much-changed world. The show, after all, was created to offer 45 minutes of escapism via Zoom in the early days of the pandemic. As Blanche knew: Folks don’t want realism, they want magic!

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