International Puppet Festival and The Art Institute of Chicago present SHANK’S MARE Review – Ephemeral Excellence

Like crossing the flowing river, engaging in live performance is never the same again. The opening performance of SHANK’S MARE presented by Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival and The Art Institute of Chicago was like entering a turbulent stream of historical Japanese theater culture, emerging buffeted and stimulated.

Simple Plot with a Moral Story

Puppets are traditionally used to inform illiterate folks on moral issues.  Think Punch and Judy, religious Muslim and Hindu puppets.

This plot features two stories joined in time and space.  The villainy of the samurai earns him the death of his son and eternal hell.  The intellectual aspirations of the astronomer and his female apprentice earn him a fulfilled death and her a role in modern science.

Excellent Ensemble from East and West

This is a work of Japanese bunraku — where three puppeteers manipulate one puppet, and kuruma ningyō, where a puppeteer seated on a small, three-wheeled stool, animates the puppet with crouched feet and hands. Bunaku is not common in U.S. puppet shows.  The exuberant partnership of Japanese master, Koryu Nishikawa V and former apprentice, now master, Tom Lee, bring this intriguing puppetry genre to the Stock Exchange Trading Room at The Art Institute of Chicago.

International Puppet Festival and The Art Institute of Chicago SHANK’S MARE

International Puppet Festival Hosts Less Common Bunraku Work

In this reviewer’s view, the excellence we most enjoy in this performance is the work of the puppeteers, musicians and behind-the-set craftsmen.  There is no dialogue, only a few projected speech balloons.  The scenery is a live video-feed of miniature sets projected onto the back screen.  Evocative music drives the performances.  Cieko Hara on the Shamisen and fue represent the fierce, anguished samurai.  Bill Ruyle on the hammered dulcimer is the ethereal voice of the stars.  They were, for this writer, truly exceptional.

SHANK’S MARE is especially recommended for lovers of unique puppetry.  Be aware that the seating in the Stock Exchange Trading Room is bleacher-style; no backs and hard seats for the one-and-a-half-hour performance.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Watch this video showing the TOP PICK PLAYS of 2019


Master Puppeteer: Koryu Nishikawa V
Design and Direction: Tom Lee
Composer/Hammered Dulcimer: Bill Ruyle
Composer/Shamisen and Fue: Chieko Hara
Lighting: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew with Thomas Delvalle
Live Feed Video Puppeteer: Chris Carcione
Puppeteers:  Koryu Nishikawa V, Josh Rice, Takemi Kitamura, Leah Ogawa, Yoshihisa Kuwayama, Justin Perkins & Tom Lee.


Friday, Jan 18, 2:30 and 7 pm
Saturday, January 19, 11 am and 6:30 pm


Stock Exchange Trading Room, The Art Institute of Chicago, 230 S. Columbus Drive, Chicago


Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago


Visit the International Puppet Festival website for ticket information.

Photo credit

Photos: Helen Maybanks

Ann Boland
Portrait by Paul Sierra

Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation.  Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.  Please visit her website for more information.  


Click here to read more Picture this Post reviews by Ann Boland.

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