One of the most inventive productions at this year’s New York Fringe is Joe Mazza‘s Hyperbolist, a melange of puppetry, silent film, and vaudeville performed entirely (except for some of the films) by Mr. Mazza.
In the best of the filmed clips, he carries forth the tradition of Chaplin (with a nod to Mr. Bean), creating more or less old-style silent shorts but shooting them in brilliant colors (especially reds). His sad clown character, original but evocative of his great predecessors, effectively fuses avant-garde philosophizing with the pulling of heartstrings.
That combination—the stretching of the artistic mind around simple emotions—is, in fact, is what’s unique about Mr. Mazza’s work in general. In the puppetry portions of the show he demonstrates his expressivity with small hand puppets, sometimes poking them through the curtain. In one rather too long segment he remains on stage, mounting a short ladder and soliloquizing through a sad, too-smart-for-his-own-good puppet. The puppet creates a companion out of an inanimate object (just what a puppeteer does with his puppets—layers upon layers!) which then dies, revives, and ends up crucified—there’s a bunch of Catholic guilt being worked out here too.
The puppets give voice to Mr. Mazza’s extraordinary writing, devoted in this particular show to the theme of “love.” Variations on the theme include a priceless riff on prepositions and a lot of smart, surprising metaphors that keep us paying attention even when there’s not much movement on stage.
The program indicates that each performance might have different elements. The last part of this particular hour was given over to “The Anatomy of the Flea,” conceived and directed by Dan Kerr-Hobert, in which Mr. Mazza uses the paraphernelia of an old-fashioned flea circus to make trenchant points about love in both its harsh and its tender varieties. After riling up the male flea with insults, he watches the insect pair couple roughly: “The harder they clash, the farther apart they seem.” Love’s a good theme for Mr. Mazza, though; however icy some of his messages may be, he so loves his audience—it comes through in every gesture and flick of the voice—that the good feelings never let up.