Human ideas shape puppet dreams of ‘Mariposa Nocturna’

A child wishes for her dying grandmother to have ‘a happy sleep.’ What happens next is a bawdy, Japanese shadow-dream, a pair of bird-headed spinsters find themselves custodians of a large, glowing egg and a lonely toy carriage embarks upon a search for buried dreams.

That sums up the events of “Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Tryptych,” having three performances, Aug. 15-17 at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn.

“There’s really precise, well-choreographed, well-performed, puppetry,” said 16th Street Theater Artistic Associate Stephanie Diaz, who created and conceived “Mariposa Nocturna.” “It’s really beautiful and I’m proud of that.”

The three movement-based pieces make up the story that is performed to an original score. “Mariposa Nocturna” explores universal themes of loss, longing, death and rebirth.

Starting with a clear story, the first piece is a sound-scape with a vocal montage in Spanish and English. As the performance progresses into the second and third segments, events become more impressionistic and open to interpretation.

“They are stories and they grow progressively less linear,” said Diaz. “The third one is the most abstract, but by then the audience can handle it because the first piece is super linear. I found that when I really tried to give people enough of a story (so) that they weren’t asking themselves ‘what’s going on?’ People know what’s going on. When you talk to them afterward they have a different ideas of what went on.”

Along with Diaz, the cast includes, Jessica Mondres, Jazmin Corona, Laura Shatkus, Miguel Nuñez and Hannah Bennett. Mondres created the featured film footage, while Barry Bennett composed the original music. Taylor Bibit is credited as movement coach and puppetry consultant.

The story is told using a total of 30 hand-crafted tabletop and shadow puppets and manipulated objects, almost all of which Diaz constructed. In the processes of developing the show, the objects Diaz transformed into puppets all came first. As she made them into characters, the theme-filled story developed.

Diaz is most excited about spotlighting the ways puppet manipulation speaks to audiences. “Finding that language — that’s another reason why I wanted to do it in silence, to just really communicate through gesture and movement,” said Diaz.

“Mariposa Nocturna” is the first show Diaz has created and this performance will be the full production’s debut. The puppet show was developed in residence with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and also in part at the 2013 Eugene O’Neill National Puppetry Conference.

Diaz also received a 2014 NALAC Fund for the Arts Artist Grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture for this project.

Diaz divides her time and talents in the arts between acting, puppetry projects and writing short fiction and poetry. As a puppeteer, she specializes in Bunraku-style tabletop and shadow puppetry and works primarily with found materials (organic and man-made), paper, wood and wire.

“I’m naturally a handy person and I appreciate detail work as a viewer and I’m a creature of detail,” said Diaz. “I like it when all corners of the canvas are filled in. Not to say I can’t appreciate a minimalist approach and in fact I really admire it. If you come into my house, there is probably something of interest in every little corner.”

Diaz enjoyed pulling her Guatemalan roots into her project. The Spanish mariposa nocturna, which translates as “moth,” she derived from her grandmother’s belief that a perfectly white moth is the spirit of the recently departed, saying, “the dead are among us.”

With death being a significant theme, the first character to appear is a skeleton clad in a crown and a cape. That figure, Diaz explained, is recognized as an obscure Guatemalan folk saint who is considered the patron saint of illness and death.

While the show developed “organically,” out of her imagination and heritage, Diaz said she is pleased with the piece. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to present a Latina created work that doesn’t pander to prevailing stereotypes and notions of what it is to be Latino and Latina.”

‘Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Triptych’

16th Street Theater, 6420 16th St., Berwyn

7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15 and Saturday, Aug. 16, and 3 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 17

$18

Tickets and information: 16thstreettheater.org or call (708) 795-6704

1 Comment

  • 16th Street Theater | “Human Ideas Shape Puppet Dreams”

    […] the Sun-Times feature on Stephanie Diaz’ Mariposa Nocturna playing tonight, Saturday and Sunday only at 16th Street […]

    2014-08-15 12:24:39 | Reply
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