A stunning feat of ingenious puppetry and inventive storytelling, the dystopian noir fantasy The Flatiron Hex is both a solo show and a cornucopia of marvels. With vivid humor, verbal cleverness that encompasses both high and pop culture, and unstoppable theatrical creativity, co-writers James Godwin and Tom Burnett have imagined a future Manhattan beset by tremendous storms. Insulated from the weather and from antagonists from a place called Jerzy by a cadre of high-technology shaman-plumbers, this place called “NYORG” is a New York City we both recognize warmly and shudder at.
Workaday shaman Wiley Walker (actor and puppeteer Godwin does all the other voices too) is sent to de-virus and reboot the nerve center of the city’s defenses, where he banters with a cybernetic being, played by a skeletal puppet, essential to the protective infrastructure. But one of the keys Wiley needs has vanished, all is not as it seems, and he sets off to solve the mystery. Along the way he makes a descent into the underworld; gets tangled in dirty mayoral politics; visits his dead mother, whose consciousness lives on in a “simbox” and who may have the clue he needs; and encounters a jumble of magical-mystical beings who suggest the inventions of Lewis Carroll, Harlan Ellison, and a steampunky dash of Doctor Who.
With all its dizzyingly inventive puppetry, artfully mock-poetic writing, and clever characterizations and sustained energy from Godwin’s tour de force solo performance, Flatiron Hex lacks something in the narrative itself. Wildly colorful, it’s got more smarts than heart, and is thus less captivating than the storytelling techniques. It suffers further from a few expository scenes that go on too long. The result is a show that’s just a bit less than the sum of its amazing parts.
Yet the endlessly energetic imagination on display keeps us going. For its intelligence and wit, its strength of imagination, and its stupendous stagecraft, it’s eminently worth seeing.
Of course it’s coincidental that just as this storm-centered story begins its run (at HERE through Sept. 30), multiple hurricanes are battering the southern United States and the Caribbean. But as The Flatiron Hex reminds us, we are likely to be in for a new normal. While the real things to come may not include Toad Gods and Rat Queens, it’s only natural for creative minds to respond to the realities of climate change and other brushes with armageddon by dreaming up potential futures and crafting stories that wake us up. You’ll leave this show with its visions swimming in your head.