Wednesday, February 4, 2009



Conceived, directed and designed by Dan Hurlin; music by Dan Moses Schreier; text by Sally Oswald; created by the Ensemble. St. Ann's Warehouse. (CLOSED)

Dan Hurlin's puppet-theater tribute to Mike Disfarmer, an odd, self-named portrait photographer from rural Arkansas, gets almost universally high marks for its meticulous design and haunting, resonant multimedia content, with only the Times' Charles Isherwood dissenting on the latter. It only runs through Sunday, so get your tickets now. NOTE: Edward Einhorn posted some interesting thoughts about the show on his blog, but we didn't grade it as a review.

Variety A+
(Sam Thielman) As beautiful and precise as a model railroad, Dan Hurlin's lush "Disfarmer" fills the stage with all the tiny, heartbreaking miracles that make up the lonely life of his puppet hero...Moving, poignant and occasionally hilarious, "Disfarmer" is a wonder...Amazingly, we know what he's thinking nearly all the time simply by watching his body language...In an odd and totally unexpected way, Hurlin is using his misanthropic, shrinking hero to illustrate transience, both in the character's slow miniaturization and in his portraits, regularly displayed on a scrim behind the main action.

Theatermania A
(Dan Balcazo) Beautifully evocative...The performance doesn't attempt a straightforward biography of its subject, instead presenting a dream-like exploration of what his state of mind may have been like to come up with such a bizarre creation myth for himself...The impression given is of a bleak life, punctuated by fear and reclusiveness...The ensemble of puppeteers (who are credited with creating the piece) handle each object in a loving and deliberate manner. They achieve life-like expressiveness in their manipulation of the various puppets, right down to simulating breathing while Disfarmer sleeps.

Backstage A
(Leonard Jacobs) Questions, not answers, are Hurlin's focus...There is such precision in this winsome work that puppeteers Matt Acheson, Chris M. Green, Tom Lee, Darius Mannino, and Eric Wright must be congratulated. One wonders how Hurlin, serving as the narrator, experiences his piece from a corner of the stage, watching us watch his work. Then again, maybe it's a reflection of the idea that a man living hermetically, isolated from society, is apt to be strange but not inaccessible. As David Soll's excellent film sequences prove, the beauty that Disfarmer couldn't see in his own life unmistakably comes through in his extraordinary photographic art.

Gothamist A
(John Del Signore) Bewitching...To summarize the incidents in Sally Oswald's text is to miss the point; as she explains in a note, Hurlin hired her "to not write a play." The "story" told in Disfarmer is evocative, not narrative—the life of this enigmatic hermit is communicated viscerally, through an immersive sound design that slides between fake old radio broadcasts and Hurlin's intimate narration, through the impeccably detailed settings, through the elegant manipulation of the sad, isolated puppet by five angelic handlers...What Disfarmer lacks in dramatic propulsion, it makes up for with aesthetic virtuosity and a leavening streak of slapstick comedy.

Time Out NY B+
(Helen Shaw) It’s no wonder puppet master Dan Hurlin was attracted to the story of Mike Disfarmer, an eccentric small-town photographer from the 1920s whose pictures have climbed the rickety ladder into high art. Disfarmer’s portraits—some of which are on display at St. Ann’s Warehouse—spread a small stillness...And while Hurlin’s elegiac Disfarmer is full of sound (Dan Moses Schreier’s excellent, folksy score) and repressed fury (Sally Oswald’s fragmented text), it too gives an impression of expanding silence.

The New York Times B-
(Charles Isherwood) Exquisitely designed but conceptually thin...Although the subject of this languid meditation on a curious man certainly qualifies as an original—Mike Disfarmer made up his name, claimed to have been born of a tornado and apparently spent a lot of time measuring his feet—the daily rounds of his life depicted onstage are almost numbingly trivial. He drinks a beer. He runs some errands. He nods off while composing a letter. He drinks another beer. That the figure engaging in these behaviors is a small bunraku-style puppet artfully manipulated by one or more puppeteers does not, I’m afraid, make the activities more compelling...The elaborately natural movement and evocative designs cannot wholly disguise the paucity of psychology, or narrative, or sociology in the show.

Village Voice C+
(Alexis Soloski) Disfarmer soon dissipates audience interest, and Oswald's script lacks the coarse lyricism of Mac Wellman's [Jennie Richee]. The set is gorgeous, the staging clever...But the show trudges along at a pre-industrial drag, and the repetitive scenes of Disfarmer waking, sleeping, shuffling to work, and buying beer and chocolate ice cream seem unproductively endless...Though the initial moments held me rapt, I quite agreed with my date, who, upon leaving the theater, remarked, "Well, that was dis-interesting."

Variety A+ 14; Theatermania A 13; Backstage A 13; Gothamist A 13; Time Out NY B+ 12; The New York Times B- 9; Village Voice C+ 8; 84/7= 12 (A-)

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