Redmoon’s Curious Cabinet

Photo by Sean Williams, 2005 production.

Why don’t ALL puppeteers wear monocles and do acrobatics while performing? That was my first thought while watching Redmoon Theater’s latest marvel, The Cabinet. As the show begins, the audience is faced with a wall sized wooden cabinet, its face riddled with oddly shaped drawers and compartments. Suddenly, a door slams open and gloved hands slide a gramophone out from behind a curtain. More doors open to reveal a darkened stage. Then, as if through the hissing and static of an ancient recording, the voice of the protagonist begins to tell his tale, the story of an unwittingly murderous somnambulist.

Photo by Ryan Bourque, 2010 production.

Coilhouse being what it is, I have the feeling that at least a few of you are already familiar with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the 1919 silent film that inspired Redmoon’s production. It is a story with as many layers as a matryoshka doll, but on the surface, it tells the tale of a hapless somnambulist (Cesare) who falls into the clutches of a nefarious doctor (Dr. Caligari) who uses the young man as a pawn in his murderous schemes. Ultimately, we discover that the story we have just been told was the delusion of a man in an asylum, trapped within his own mind– a dream within a dream.

Photo by Sean Williams, 2005 production.

The characters are played by exquisite glass-eyed puppets, manipulated by intricately costumed puppeteers. The interplay between these puppets and their puppeteers is riveting, bringing to mind a scene from my favorite film, Santa Sangre, where a son performs a duet with his armless mother, acting as her hands. There’s a sense of charged symbiosis, with the performers moving in measured, clockwork rhythms, like antique automatons. They watch their puppets raptly, sometimes standing alongside them, sometimes hanging upside down, sometimes nearly out of sight. Gloved hands appear from around the edges of the stage; when a weapon appears, it is held out to the puppet with a long-handled silver hemostat. When there is a death, they unspool red ribbons of blood.

Photo by Ryan Bourque, 2010 production.

Setting the stages within the various chambers of the cabinet creates a sense of dreamlike dislocation. The off-kilter geometry of the sets and backdrops accentuates this impression, as does the use of pop-up books and shadow puppet projections. Mysterious and lyrical, this is the sort of performance that one would notice something new with each viewing. For those of you near Chicago, this is a ravishing treat, absolutely not to be missed! The show runs until March 7, 2010. For more information, visit, and watch the trailer here.

Photo by Sean Williams, 2005 production.

8 Responses to “Redmoon’s Curious Cabinet”

  1. Alice Says:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted to see something so much. Those puppeteers’ costumes are just jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

  2. SMK Says:

    Photo credits:
    # 1, 3, 5 – Sean Williams, 2005
    # 2, 4 – Ryan Bourque, 2010

  3. Mer Says:

    Thanks, SMK! Photo credits have been elaborated upon. :)

    Jessica, this looks GORGEOUS, thanks for sharing with us. I wish I could go.

  4. choklit Says:

    Oh, I am simply mad about puppets, especially strange and fantastical ones like this… it looks simply spectacular. Would that I was anywhere near Chicago to go see it… but alas, I am in California.

    Thanks for the write-up!

  5. intrikate88 Says:

    That looks incredible and awesome. Also creepy as fuck, since it’s puppets inspired by Caligari. I’d love to see it.

  6. Jessica Says:

    Alice, Chocklit: They sometimes do events elsewhere, you may want to join their mailing list. :)

    Sean: Apologies & compliments to the photographers. The pictures are fabulous!!!

    Mer: I knew they would be right up your alley! They did an amazing event at The White House last Halloween, among other things, a skeletal band parading around the grounds…

  7. Ed Autumn Says:

    My favorite film of all time! O.O Oh how I’ve never wanted to go to Chicago more in my LIFE. Oh, it looks like a dream…I bet it must be amazing. Although, I did recently see a rivetingly beautiful screening of it with the hauntingly divine embellishments of a live piano score that simply took my breath away, bringing me back to the first time I lay timid eyes on the master piece. Still, I wish I could see the show!

  8. Skipwave Says:

    For once I’m pleased to be firmly rooted in the craggy frozen ground of Chicagoua. Two tickets, please.