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Puppets interpret struggle of OC, Alzheimer's at Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts

Photo by Richard Termine - Scene from 'The Pigeoning' by Robin Frohardt
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Photo by Richard Termine</em></div>Scene from 'The Pigeoning' by Robin Frohardt
Photo by Richard Termine - Scene from 'The Pigeoning' by Robin Frohardt
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Photo by Richard Termine</em></div>Scene from 'The Pigeoning' by Robin Frohardt
Perth Theatre Company - 'It's Dark Outside' from Perth Theatre Company
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Perth Theatre Company</em></div>'It's Dark Outside' from Perth Theatre Company

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By Kellie Gormley
Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts includes two quirky and very simple shows that rely on puppets and body language rather than dialogue: “The Pigeoning” and “It's Dark Outside.”

‘The Pigeoning'

It's those blasted, filthy pigeons causing all the problems, Frank says.

“The Pigeoning,” a story about obsessive-compulsive behavior, features a 2-foot-tall, grumpy main character named Frank — a Bunraku puppet — along with pigeon figures. Three puppeteers, dressed in black and their faces concealed, operate the figures, backed by video and original music.

“It's a lot like watching a living cartoon even though the themes are a bit grown up,” says Robin Frohardt, creator and director of “The Pigeoning.” “There's a simplicity of watching one character struggle, and I think people get sucked in.”

“The Pigeoning” tells the story of Frank, a New York City office worker in the early '80s who is obsessed with order and cleanliness. The scavenger pigeons become his nemesis, and he launches an investigation into a perceived pigeon conspiracy.

“The pigeons are sort of the embodiment of the ... germs and disorder of the city,” Frohardt says. “They seem to continually cause problems.”

Frank thinks, “Maybe the pigeons are involved in a greater plot against him,” says Frohardt, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Frohardt compares Frank to Buster Keaton, an actor known for his deadpan delivery and stoic expression.

The play contains no dialogue: It's all puppet movements and music.

“It keeps people engaged, for sure,” Frohardt says. “It's very refined and choreographed. ... It's very visually stimulating.

“I would say it's funny and a little dark,” she says. “It's surprising how easy it is in a way. The audiences that we've shown it to have been very receptive to it.”

“The Pigeoning” will show four times Oct. 9 through 12 at 937 Liberty Ave. Every show is sold out except for a recently added show at 7 p.m. Oct. 11. Tickets are $25.

‘It's Dark Outside'

Alzheimer's disease and dementia create misery for people who suffer from them, and “It's Dark Outside” may help audiences understand and sympathize, says an Australian actress from the show.

Wearing a latex mask, Arielle Gray plays the tall, lanky old man in “It's Dark Outside,” a production of the Australian Perth Theatre Company. You won't know it's a woman playing the man, because the play has no dialogue. It relies exclusively on body language, puppets, shadows, animation and an original music score.

The 50-minute play depicts the man as he gets agitated at dusk and wanders outside into the night, where a shadowy figure ends up rescuing him. This shows the stress of Sundowners syndrome, wherein dementia patients feel especially unsettled when the sun sets.

“It's certainly not a documentary” about Alzheimer's, Gray says. The play is, rather, a heartfelt, creative interpretation of a patient's struggle, she says.

The play captures the real person that remains buried underneath the confusion of dementia, Gray says.

“I am very fascinated by this idea that these people who have lost so much of their abilities — something stays in them,” she says.

“It's Dark Outside” plays at 9 p.m. Oct. 9, 10 and 12 at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh. Tickets are $25.

Kellie Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-320-7824 or kgormly@tribweb.com.

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