Does Madness run in the family? Or do family run to the Madness?
Amy Escobar as writer, co-director, and producer of We Go Mad pivots on family to explore the enduring suffering and yearning to related that cascade down the generations. Using cinematic shadow play, modified bunraku, plus object manipulation, Escobar presents a theatrical case study of a daughter testing the limits of her sanity, and failing.
We Go Mad is part psychological study, part haunted house tale, and part investigation of the forces of love and madness in one family.
The lead, played by Escobar so I’ll call her “Amy,” inherits a large castle-like mansion from a great-grandmother she didn’t know about. Arriving alone to check out her new property, she is helped minimally by Joe and Alice, aging siblings who have helped out at the house through the generations of her family. They leave every night to go to their homes in the nearby town, leaving Amy alone with the house—and its ghosts and memories.
Like a movie, Escobar and company use their puppetry skills to evoke a horror movie on the stage in front of us. This is puppetry looking at the intertwined dynamics of love and madness. They kept me enthralled for the whole 100 minutes.
Like a movie, with cinematic shadow play puppeteers create effects of zooming in, zooming out, close-ups, and distance shots. This is done with the projection from the back of the stage of bright lights onto a screen. This was used for the opening sequence, for example, to show us the castle house, the path to the entrance, the front door, and then the title of the play. This was the opening sequence and effectively signaled: think movie.
The puppet players perform in the light, casting a shadow on the screen. Putting the shadow play screens on wheels allowed the ensemble tremendous flexibility as they perform the modified Bunraku sections of the show. Rolling screens also allow for cinematic effects like dissolves and cuts.
Amy Escobar is a professional puppeteer with Thistle Theatre. Thistle performs Tabletop Bunraku shows for families and schools. From their home page:
Bunraku (文楽), also known as Ningyō jōruri (人形浄瑠璃), is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre, founded in Osaka at the beginning of 17th century. … Thistle Theatre specializes in Tabletop Bunraku. Puppeteers, dressed in black, operate the handcrafted puppets from behind for realistic movement.
Amy begins to get more frequent headaches as soon as she enters the castle-mansion. Her great grandmother once ran an asylum there for rich people to receive treatment their mental illnesses. Here headaches take the form of hearing voices that “come through the ears and go out through the eyes.”
The longer she stays and goes through the various rooms and boxes, the more frequent these episodes become. Along the way, there are bookcases hiding winding stairways to dungeons, birds that start out as very frightening to Amy, and the retelling of a family myth that may or may not reveal that Amy has three aunts. As can happen in families, we are left to wonder if those aunts really lived? Were they miscarriages, aborted, given for adoption, or what?
Amy eventually summons the courage to enter her mother’s former room—is she fated to succumb to madness like her mother and grandmother did, or can she resist the voices and headaches and stay sane?
Ensemble: Alissa Cattabriga, Lauren Freman, Mandy Rose Nichols, Alyssa Norling
Shadow Puppetry: Cassie Bray Zane Exactly
Amy Escobar: Producer / Writer / Director || Gavin Reub: Producer / Dramaturg / Director || Andy Buffelen: Producer / Production Manager || Sarah Ross: Stage Manager || Ben Burris: 3D Puppet Fabricator || Zane Exactly: Lead Shadow Puppet Designer || Jaqueline Donovan: Shadow Puppet Designer || Geahk Burchill – Shadow Puppet Artist || Cassie Bray: Lighting Designer || Leanna Keith: Composer || Fantasia Rose: Costume Designer || Em Allen: Prop / Set Designer || Elana Lessing: Prop / Set Associate || Amy Lambert: Choreographer || Harry Todd Jamieson: Sound Designer
Credit also to production partners 18th & Union and the 14/48 Project and a grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.
Advisory: Play contains screams and depictions of insanity, ghosts, & corpses.
We Go Mad by Any Escobar. Directed by Amy Escobar & Gavin Reub. Runtime: 100 Minues; no intermission. 18th & Union, 1406 18th Ave, Central District. Thurs – Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun Matinee at 3 pm. Tickets. Closes October 5.
Andy: Hello, my name is Andy and I’m the producer for this show. Thank you for taking the time to write review! However, can you please adjust one thing? Our show is 100 minutes, not 3 hours. It imperative people don’t think they’re watching a 3 hour play with no intermission.
[Editor fixed it] Mark: Apologies. Thanks for noticing.