I got a call from a City Paper staffer Wednesday night about Wayang Modern, the shadow puppet theater performance led by Geoffrey Cormier. It took place at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church on Elizabeth Street.
There were many parents, children, and elderly people in attendance, who, it’s safe to say, were expecting to see a nice and light bit of late afternoon entertainment (it started at 6 o’clock). What they got instead was sexual innuendo, violence, and blood-curdling screams, a surprise R-rating instead of an expected G.
I saw Wayang Modern in December. It’s clever and imaginative, but strictly for adults and people with a taste for irony and the macabre. It’s shadow puppetry, yes, but shadow puppetry for adults, a characterization Cormier is proud of. A female character in the first third drugs and seduces a hapless buffoon. The second third, called “Who Does the Sun Shine For?,” features happy happy flower people dancing to their happy happy songs until they are slaughtered by gigantic bugs.
Here, Cormier & Co. scream really, really loudly. It’s like their skin is being flayed. Add to this a sound problem at New Tabernacle. I’m told the acoustics were so bad that they had to turn the volume up. This was fine for the narration, but too much when it came time to start screaming. Evidently, people who had tolerated the drugs and sex of the first segment were then holding their ears and heading for the exits.
The City Paper staffer told me that he’d never seen so many people leave so quickly in the middle of the performance. He said that audience members were dazed and confused and visibly angry. Children were looking to their parents as if to ask why this woman was poking the man in the butt. The only part appropriate for kids and the elderly is the last third called “Waltz of the Sea Children.” It’s pure eye candy with no twists and turns to send it into the realm of R-rating.
“It was a disaster,” he said.
I can only imagine there must have been some miscommunication between Cormier and Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Either the city office had never seen Wayang Modern or Cormier neglected (for whatever reason: time crunch, forgetfulness, etc.; I’m not suggesting deception, just oversight and error) to mention its less than family friendly nature. The pictures of the show (see above) don’t give you much inclination about its subversive nature. Piccolo’s website makes no mention of sex, drugs, and genocide.
In fact, it calls the show “charming.”
[The puppet theater group] performs two charming works: Who Does The Sun Shine For? with an original score by Nathan Koci; and Waltz of The Sea Children, music by Dr. Walter Russels . . .