The people of the Rogue Artists Ensemble have a wonderful way of working with puppets. The Los Angeles-based theatre company is currently presenting a show based on three of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories — Diary of a Madman, The Overcoat and The Nose at the scrappy-wondrous Bootleg Theater space — which seamlessly grafts together human and marionette actors to take the audience into an off-kilter world where surreality rules.
The ambitious project was created on a shoestring budget, but you wouldn’t know it from the quality of the acting and story-telling and the cleverly manipulated and gorgeously constructed puppet creations. Among my favorite of the puppets were the two dogs from Diary of a Madman. The puppeteers handled the mutts so brilliantly that they seemed to have absolutely distinct personalities. Other puppets, such as the old office clerk with his big, angry cuboid head and the towering, spindle-armed tailor from The Overcoat, were slightly sinister. Meanwhile, puppets like the postal workers, constructed out of stationery, also from The Overcoat, and the enormous nose puppet from The Nose, were as comical as they were works of art.
I don’t often feel strongly enough about a theatrical production to think it merits the effort of touring to other places. But Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Gogol Project should be seen elsewhere. I think I am going to badger some of my Bay Area producer friends to get down to LA to catch the show before it ends its run on November 1. San Francisco audiences would adore the production.