He Who at Theatre Zarko | Theater review
Michael Montenegro’s Garage Rep entry offers impressive puppetry but impenetrable storytelling.
Michael Montenegro refers to his Evanston-based outfit Theatre Zarko as “puppet symbolist theater.” The puppetry on display in Zarko’s Garage Rep outing is impressive indeed. The title character, a giant baby’s head crafted from wire and cloth, is abstract but remarkably articulated; voiced by Montenegro, he cajoles and torments the three women charged with his care and feeding.
Unfortunately, it’s the symbolism that falls flat. The three “mothers” are identically dressed in shapeless baggy dresses, black wigs and grotesque makeup, perhaps indicating a mother’s perceived loss of individual identity. Passages suggest Montenegro and company are interested in the sacrifices that parenting requires; at one point, the women are ripped away from a reminiscence of romance (played out amusingly with Barbie and Ken–sized puppets) by the baby’s unrelenting demands.
But what exactly is the relationship between the women and this tyro tyrant? Why three mothers, and why does a fourth arrive, suitcase in hand, near the play’s end? What of the “inquisitor” in the ludicrous blond wig, who shows up periodically to interrogate the mothers and invariably arrives by entering around a closed door? Montenegro’s inefficient use of space makes the Steppenwolf Garage seem more cavernous than it is, and his storytelling more scattered. Occasionally intriguing but more often impenetrable, He Who feels tedious even at an hour’s length.