If God exists, what are his powers, really?
Here’s an even trickier question: What is he really like?
In The God Projekt, which together with Dorme closes this season’s Puppet Series at La MaMa, Kevin Augustine’s Lone Wolf Tribe proposes some answers. God (played by the aptly named Augustine) is an aged vaudevillian and magician, powerful enough to create living creatures out of dust and spit, but at the same time too decrepit to heal a sick little girl. This Yahweh certainly can’t keep track of the trillions of prayers he receives and then stores on color-coded index cards in a huge bank of file cabinets.
Unusual and thought-provoking, if too diffuse to carry the full impact of its ambition, the show brings to mind Beckett’s great situational monologues. God is trying to get the Word out definitively once and for all, and the age of YouTube is the perfect time, as he can create a series of videos of his very own. Krapp’s Last Tape in particular comes to mind. Yet this God is hopelessly out of date, recording on used VCR tapes and mucking around with decades-old communications technology (a Dictaphone!?), not to mention all those physical file cabinets.
Old-time flavors pervade the show, from the vaudeville-era songs and jokes to the deluxe tuxedo God wears in the second act. But it’s all in the service of some cutting-edge puppetry, not technologically but creatively. “Creative” is the word: one project God conceives is to re-create mankind, and what he does to himself to get the organs for his new Adam is certainly cutting-edge. At first just a clump of blood vessels, this re-creation grows into a beating heart, then a half-made figure – sentient but with exposed organs, nonfunctional vocal cords, and as yet no legs. Tension builds as it dawns on us that this Adam might never get past this half-made horror-movie state.
But there are too many slow-moving elements for anxiety to mount in a sustained way. Augustine and co-creator Edward Einhorn engage in a variety of sometimes aggressive tactics, such as turning up the house lights to thrust the audience into the action. And numerous moments hit home: when God realizes a man he’s welcome-homed into his lair isn’t really Jesus; when he learns the fate of a little girl he thought he’d healed; the Adam puppet, alone and apparently forgotten by his distracted creator, trapped and menaced by the wild beasts he hasn’t yet the voice to name; God, youthful in memory, dancing with the puppet legs of his beloved.
The Yahweh character study is compelling, too, along with the questions raised along the way. Ultimately, what this experimental work lacks in focus it makes up for in ingenuity. It’s surely one of the most unusual shows I’ve seen this year. This world premiere, presented by Lone Wolf Tribe in association with Untitled Theater Co. #61, runs through Nov. 24 at The Club at La MaMa.