Be sure to sit up close for any Great Small Works show. They’re both small-scale and in-your-face.
The progressive very-small-theater troupe, with New York radical roots and academic aplomb and great comic instincts, performs tonight (Friday, Feb. 3) and tomorrow (Sat. the 4th) at 8 p.m. in Wesleyan University’s CFA Hall, 287 Washington Terrace, Middletown. There’s a talkback following each performance. $15 general public; $12 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students.
The Great Small Works political puppetry troupe was officially formed and nurtured in New York City, but its Connecticut connections are just as strong. One of GSW’s founding members, Mark Sussman, attended Wesleyan University in the early 1980s. Early in the company’s history, it received back-to-back bookings at the then-new International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven. For the very first A&I fest in 1996, Great Small Works and dozens of community-minded Elm Citizens devised the oral history pageant A History of Apizza in New Haven. The following year, GSW returned with the tent-show spectacle Toy Theater Faust, a concise, creepy and comic rendition of the soul-selling saga. A few years later, the troupe brought one of its Toy Theater Festival presentations to the ECA Arts Hall.
A couple of years ago, GSW co-founder John Bell bagged one of the best academic gigs in American puppetry, Director of the Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry. There on the UConn Storrs campus, Bell teaches and performs and curates exhibits and co-edits Puppetry International Magazine.
This is a provocative, envelop-pushing ensemble that also happens to be rooted in a great centuries-old tradition. Great Small Works challenges the idea of toy theaters as, well, toys, yet the shows are funny, entertaining and well-rounded as well as openly opinionated and socially aware.
At Wesleyan this weekend, Great Small Works will consist of five performers (John Bell, Cassandra Burrows, Trudi Cohen, Jenny Romaine and Xavier) doing the company’s signature piece Short, Entertaining History of Toy Theatre as well as the latest chapter in their torn-from-the-headlines series Toy Theater of Terror as Usual (Episode 12: Desert and Ocean), and the picture-narrative Three Graces—a cantastoria. The Graces in question turn out to be Grace Paley, Grace Kelly, Grace Jones and Grace Lee Boggs.