I’m a less-is-more kind of guy; the more high-concept a production is, the better the chance that something is going to go horribly wrong. However, with Shadows of the Bakemono, Meat & Potato Theatre succeeds in bringing together five different playwrights, puppets, masks and the Japanese version of scary campfire stories. This is ambitious stuff, and the result is compelling and entertaining.
Starting with a samurai tiger hunter and ending at a modern-day anime “cosplay” (costume play) party, director Tobin Atkinson—who also wrote one of the interludes and designed all of the puppets—takes the audience through Japanese history with original tales by local playwrights. Though disparate in voice and distinct in puppet styles, the five tales share a genuinely creepy edge.
The puppets themselves are charming, innovative and downright cool, with outstanding costume design by K.L. Alberts. The cast of ninja-black-clad puppeteers bring them to life with uncanny body language and stylized voicework that is appropriate for the folklore quality of storytelling without coming off as gimmicky and contrived.
A recent transplant from Washington, D.C., Meat & Potato Theatre is dedicated to giving emerging talent opportunities to ply their craft. Shadows of the Bokemono itself is a product of its Playwright’s Laboratory, a joint project with Plan-B Theatre Company, created to develop local writing talent. With big theatricality—like puppets and masks—as part of its mission statement, I’m looking forward to seeing what this company can pleasantly surprise me with next.