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Bread & Puppet Theater Feeds the Body and Diverts the Mind in Sourdough Philosophy Circus and Pageant

May 24, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:


Bread and circuses, feeding the body politic while diverting the mind from pressing political problems, is an idea at least as old as ancient Rome; and corrupt contemporary politicians who co-opt their constituents with the modern-day equivalents of "panem et circenses" are one of the principal targets of the lancet-sharp satirical pens of the Bread & Puppet Theater in Sourdough Philosophy Circus and Pageant, an amusing amalgam of brassy band music, whimsical dance, and ham-fisted left-leaning political satire that the Glover, VT puppet theater was originally scheduled to perform out-of-doors on May 22-24 in Raleigh Little Theatre's Louise "Scottie" Stephenson Amphitheatre.

Cloudbursts before the show — and the imminent threat of even more rain — chased Sunday's matinee performance inside, and the politically charged Bread & Puppet Theater skillfully adapted on the fly to the much narrower horizons of RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage. Although the banner-waving "pageant" portion of the show may have been curtailed a bit, a biblical deluge could not have dampened the exuberance of the Sourdough Philosophy Brass Band, which combined trumpet, tuba, and saxophone, with a snare drum, a big bass drum, cymbals, a tambourine, a slide whistle, and an accordion to provide spirited accompaniment for a series of satirical comedy skits — mainly performed by white-clad comedians in chef's hats and jackets. The Rotten Idea Theater Company continued to flog the dead horse of the defunct Bush Administration as well as hold the Obama Administration’s feet to the fire on such front-burner issues as illegal immigration, the federal bailout of the banks, strip-mining, and assorted other evils of capitalism.

The chef's special for "The Federal Cookbook" was an economy steak overcooked until it tasted like cardboard and then topped with trillions of dollars of condiments. The troupe's "Election Stew" recycled leftovers from previous elections; its "Illegal Alien Mashed Potatoes" mashed as many illegal aliens as possible to pulp; and its "Disaster Soup" lampooned snafus in federal disaster assistance.

The "Justice Department Specialty of the House Dinner" was a 25-course meal with something for every taste, after which guests were invited to shoot each other to exercise their Second Amendment legal protections. Then a couple of characters, with masks no doubt inspired by the giant stone heads on Easter Island, amused the audience with their eye-poking version of Old Testament justice.

A strip-mining skit with a heroic man-mountain boldly resisting a trio of bulldozers that wanted to scrape him down to a hill and skits involving cows and sheep puppets were followed by a "Zombie Bank Triathlon" that brought down the house as its "pole vault to economic recovery" fell flat, its competition for bailout funds proved inconclusive, and its CEO severance-pay bonus package celebratory dance exposed the greed behind the whole shameful process. A strongman skit in which a set of National Debt barbells initially proved too heavy for the U.S. Economy to lift provoked rueful smiles. But this madcap anti-capitalist, anti-war musical extravaganza created and designed by Peter Schumann, with input from the company, ended on an upbeat note as the Sourdough Philosophy Brass Band delivered rousing renditions of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Down by the Riverside."