Kyle Loven: A miniature world of loss and hope | Performance review
Seattle artist and puppeteer Kyle Loven conjures strange and whimsical happenings in his piece “Loss Machine” at On the Boards. Through Dec. 10, 2012.
Seattle Times theater critic
By Kyle Loven. Through Monday at On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle; sold out, but there is a waiting list for each performance. (206-217-9888 or www.ontheboards.org)
In the several-story, dollhouse-sized tenement, strange, sinister happenings are afoot.
A lonely sock searches despondently for a mate. An antique doll loses her head searching for her lost kitty cat.
‘Lights flicker on and off, revealing tiny rooms, hutches, cubbyholes inhabited by such creatures as a woman composed of a clutch purse, a pair of wing-tipped pair of glasses, and long strands of pearls.
A stuffed bunny digs a grave for a dead cricket. A disembodied hand rummages around for the right key to unlock a secret box.
That hand belongs to Kyle Loven, the inventive and inspired Seattle visual artist and puppet master who concocted the curious world of “Loss Machine,” which is now premiering in the Studio Theater at On the Boards.
From found objects and general debris, Loven has crafted a remarkable mechanical structure that keeps revealing its wonders. He also conjures a powerful sense (with terrific assistance from Paurl Walsh’s textured electronic music, Kevin Heard’s mercurial sound design and Amiya Brown’s pinpoint lighting) of both apocalyptic dread and more hopeful whimsy.
Loven counts among his influences Jim Henson’s fantastical film “The Dark Crystal” (he has received funding from the Jim Henson Foundation), the eye-popping surrealist films of Jan Svankmajer, and Grimms’ fairy tales.
His work in “Loss Machine” (the first Loven piece I’ve encountered) also brings to mind the marvelous “junk puppetry” of Paul Zaloom and the collage box art of Joseph Cornell.
The transformational moments in Loven’s alternately bleak and amusingly wondrous “machine” (which, by the way, entirely operates by hand via moving parts — levers, switches, pulleys) can be enthralling.
Now what Loven needs to match his captivating visual imagination is a better sense of theatrical time and pacing. Running about 90 minutes, “Loss Machine” is slow going, under Jessica Hatlo’s direction. It surprises us with great effects, but keeps slackening and recycling them.
It’s rather like seeing someone pull a rabbit out of a hat, then do it again and again in slow motion until there’s no magic left in the effect.
Even the Rube Goldberg-like motif of a marble dropping from a jar into a series of pipes that eventually disgorge it onto the stage loses its ingenuity after much repetition.
The intent here is impressionistic rather than narrative, with an overlying metaphor (maybe) of a self-contained world breaking down, a bestiary tenement of existential loss and alienation. No argument there, but surely this could be more potently expressed in tighter, more compressed fashion.
It’s a long wait, but ultimately a sense of hope filters through “Loss Machine.” That pathetic sock does find a partner — though whether it’s a live or dead piece of footwear is unclear. And in the end, Dr. Faustus (that is, the gloved, disembodied hand of the artist) lights the lights — numerous tiny birthday candles, which shed a lovely glow, and make you want to see how the gifted Loven develops his miniaturized oeuvre in future.
Note: “Loss Machine” is sold out through its run, but will take names on a waiting list in case of no-shows.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org