Chicago International Puppet Festival Plexus Polaire and Michael Montenegro Review – Festival Opener


Goal of Chicago International Puppet Festival

Blair Thomas, artistic director and founder of the Chicago Puppet Festival, has spoken about his hope that the Festival will expose audiences to "things they've never seen, to emotions they've never felt".

Plexus Polaire's visually arresting show Cendres (Ashes) and Michael Montenegro’s Kick the Klown both playing at Victory Gardens this week, certainly delivered on that hope.


Cendres, based on the book by Gaute Heivoll and directed by Yngvild Aspeli, can be described as a Scandinavian thriller that blurs the line between reality, fantasy and compulsion.  It tells the story of a stereotypically failed writer (performed by Pierre Tual). 30-something, alcoholic, dressed in boxer shorts, a stained t-shirt and a bathrobe— he sits at a desk surrounded by mountains of crumpled drafts and empty beer bottles. He is struggling to tell the story of some mysterious fires that occurred in rural Norway at the time of his birth.

As the failed paragraphs he writes and immediately erases appear projected on a screen, we meet the characters in his story— a family of three Bunraku style puppets, each one deftly operated by 1 to 3 puppeteers. Dag, the son, immediately grabs our attention.  He’s another 30-something, with red hair and a red beard that reminds one of Van Gogh. He carries a miniature red gas can. When fire engulfs the white houses that float upstage we realize that he’s a pyromaniac.

Gripping puppetry

In an ironic twist we discover that his father is the fire chief in the village. Father-son relationships are the key to unlocking the story.

At one beautifully absurd point, the puppeteers drag a life-sized pink moose onstage. Out of its belly they rip a human-sized puppet wearing a red tracksuit who represents the writer's father. The man is dying. He smokes a last cigarette and from the puppet's lips emerges an eerie puff of smoke. From this moment on the show slides into a dark, surreal place full of arresting and profound images with the force of a nightmare. The experience is completely gripping.

An ode to Kafka

Veteran Chicago puppeteer Michael Montenegro offers something quite different with “Kick the Klown Presents a Konkatenation of Kafka.”

The title’s a mouthful, and gives a good idea of the wacky tone of the piece.

With a stage full of homemade junkyard- metal props, Kick highlights the aburdly mournful, self-deprecating content of Kafka’s works. He dons three sets of masks, cuts up Kafka’s journal entries over a makeshift altar to the man, searches for Kafka with a metal detector, and paints a portrait of a “little woman” that cleverly morphs into an insect.

Even for those only vaguely familiar with his writing, the result is funny enough to keep you sitting up straight while you scratch your head and admire Montenegro’s tenacity.


Recommended for: Puppet fans and theatergoers looking for something new

Not recommended for: Those who require linear story lines.


Photos:  Slider- Fanchon BilBille and Kristin Aafløy Opdan

and Michael Montenegro courtesy of Michael Montenegro




Plexus Polaire: January 20, 21, 22 @ 7pm

Michael Montenegro: January 19, 20, 21 @ 9pm/ January 22 @ 2pm




Victory Gardens
2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago



Plexus Polaire: $35; $25 student/senior

Michael Montenegro: $25; $20 student/senior

For more information --

Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival:

Plexus Polaire:

Michael Montenegro:




Susanna Hostetter
Susanna Hostetter is a dancer and teaching artist, exposing hundreds of Chicago Public School students a year to dance through renowned dance education organizations. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and is an avid attendee of Chicago theater, music, and cultural events.






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