This was the first show I did for children back in 1989. The Train Theater of Jerusalem ( תאטרון הקרון) was 7 years old, no one knew anything about author's rights ( today in 2020 still a fight about them for us puppeteers, back then we never thought of consulting the Ionesco estate), and no children's psychologists or educators had a say about the contents of the show before the play went on stage ( not that I ever did that). We had total artistic freedom.
I had found the 4 stories written by Eugene Ionesco, the great Absurd Theater playwright, in one of my trips to France and decided immediately to make them into a show for little children. I invited a colleague of mine, Louise Blankevoort to work together. We had met at The School for Visual Theater and had done projects together as students.
Louise at the time was doing hats and her home was full of styrofoam heads. As we played with these, they became an integral part of the show.
In all 4 stories by Ionesco ( Conte Numero 1, 2, 3 et 4, which Maurice Sendak called “Among the most imaginative picture books of the last decade ”) a little girl Josette is teased into an absurd game by her father.
As we worked, all 4 stories got woven together and as Louise did not want to be on stage, I had to solve whom I was going to play, the little girl or the father. It was clear I was going to be the little girl. As this meant that the father would be a puppet, the play began with me as Josette on the bed, remembering my past and reenacting the "absurd" games I played with my father.
The big bed with pillows sheets and the surrounding objects such as shoes, gloves, a suitcase, an umbrella, a handbag etc. became the stage. Father wants to sleep, he has had a late night out to the restaurant with mother and has overeaten. What can he do when Josette climbs on the bed and wants to play? He sends her to "find him" as he hides under the sheets. Josette is sent to his office downtown, to the zoo, the sea and the moon to look for him. Josette transforms all the objects around her to create these imaginary landscapes and characters, a patterned black and white sheet become the streets downtown, a suitcase become father's office, beret and hair pin become a tiger, stripped socks become a zebra, shoes become buses and taxis, a sky blue umbrella is the sea...
After each searching trip, Josette upset and disappointed, pokes under the sheets to tell Father he is not there where he told her he'd be. "You are not in your office!", "I am now in the sea!" he sleepily answers. Josette undoes the city landscape she had built with sheets and shoes and looks around.... with what objects she can make a sea? The umbrella lit from behind glows blue and the sea becomes a shadow scene.
As the hide and seek game progresses the bedroom becomes more and more untidy.
This is a problem because Mother left the house to go to work leaving precise instructions to both Father and Josette: "Do not drive her nuts with your crazy games!" "Don't eat any more!", "Josette, don't untidy the room!" "Josette, don't get dirty!" "Don't...don't....don't...."
The inspiration for the mother's character came from one of the illustrations by Etienne Delessert. One of the stories has colored drawings, but at the end, when the mother arrives and interrupts/ruins the "silly" game...the illustration turns black and white. The feeling was that the whole fantasy world shrunk, like a balloon losing air.
So for the show I built a pink pointing hand, a metonymy for Mother's demands for sense and order which disrupt Josette's imaginative play. As a revolver pointing at Josette and reprimanding her whenever Josette does "dangerous" things like going by herself to the zoo..."Josette! Don't go too near the tiger! He can eat you up!", the hand is carried around her waist in a leather revolver pouch. The Hand always pops up at the the most dramatic moments, pointing and blaming Josette: "Don't...don't....don't...." But Josette won't stop: "Uff...Mother!", puts the Hand in the revolver pouch and keeps on playing and messing up the room.
Photo above: Josette in the zoo.
The design had a surrealist touch. Today fake furs are everywhere, back then I had to make a handbag with fur to remind Josette of a zoo. The shoes were not in pairs, just one of each kind....flowers came out of the mother's head, in one of the scenes all the characters look alike and have the same name as in one of the stories.
I painted the father's head as a sky with clouds to show him as the dreamer. Many years later in a museum in Belgium I came across a head by Magritte, I could not believe it!!
Photo above: The future of statues by Magritte.
But, I can't be 100% sure....perhaps I had seen Magritte's head before and stored it in my unconscious. Anyway...Magritte did not complain.
The Hand and the Heads sent the kindergarten teachers into shock: "You can't show children body parts!", and Josette's rebellious attitude to her mother was a bit upsetting....Is it educational to have a child say no to her mother?
Photo above: Mother and Father Heads at the restaurant.
Photo above: Father's body was the bed quilt.
I told them I was not dismembering bodies on stage, to the contrary, I am assembling bodies. Both parents got bodies from the pillows on the bed. Sometimes the heads floated in the air. But the children never had a problem with that. They loved the puppets and came up close to have a good look at them at the end of the show and never asked me: where are the mother's legs? where are the father's arms?
Children see what you show them and use their imagination for whatever is not there they want to see.
I told them to see how the children reacted. They soon understood there was no problem, the kids loved the show and it was a success for years.
I think another rarely seen thing in Israel at the time was the puppeteer as actor/actress on stage. As far as I know this was the first show of the kind.
Structurally it was also innovative. I would draw the show as a spiralling line that forms a flower like shape. For each fantasy trip ( city, zoo, sea, moon) the line draws a petal, outwards is the imaginary trip into a created landscape and inwards back to the center of the flower, the bed, the place of reality, where Father is asleep in bed and from which Josette leaves again into a new adventure. Each petal is landscape built with the bedroom objects, each time she tears the landscape down and builds a different one. Scattered objects, sheets on the floor, shoes strewn around the floor and on the bed, the mess spirals.
This structure surprised Margareta Niculesco, who on a trip to Israel was invited to see my show. Here in Israel and abroad it was a success, what would she say? I set up in the School for Visual Theater for her. Margareta, director of Tandarica Theater of Bucharest and important figure in world puppetry found the show " Beautiful, you Patricia are so creative, there are incredible moments, full of creativity, rich but...
but: you don't build a unified world" Margareta!! now in 2020 I see you were old fashioned!!! Who cares about a unified world!
Oh boy.....We were in the early 90's....Margareta is not alive today. She made me a bit unhappy but knew inside that what she said meant little...the public, my audience, always adored the show, children and adults. For years I crossed young people in the streets of Jerusalem who reminded me they were kids when they saw אבא טרף נמר.... "It marked me for ever!" "I can't forget it!" " We were a generation that grew up with that show!"
Children would leave the theater at the end of the show pointing fingers and saying: " אל ואל ואל!" (= "Don't...don't....don't....")
And of course I was often asked: "Was your mother like the mother in the show?"
For the answer to this click here: Finding Biography.
For the reviews in the press click here