Chris Little returns the theatre to its roots of imagination and play in Grandma Noda’s Tigers, which plays Thursday May 6th at 7pm, Saturday May 8th at 7pm and Sunday May 9th at 3pm at Neptune’s Studio Theatre as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Festival in Halifax.
This Merritt Award winning play is a winsome found-object puppet show in which Little uses small figurines that he bought in Japan, along with Fisher Price toys and small creatively fashioned puppets to weave a tale about the effect a cumbersome accumulation of stuff has on both individuals and society as a whole. It is significant that this play about stuff turns stuff into its characters and its set, as well as its props so that the extreme clutter of the stage reflects the clutter of its protagonist’s hectic life.
The story is set in Japan and centers around a medium, normal apartment building of thirty identical apartments, in a medium, normal city where Hiroyuki Noda owns the apartment building as well as a successful stereo store next door. His store is becoming overrun with boxes and merchandise and as his customers pour into his business, he finds that he does not have adequate space for all of them to park their cars. Thus, he concocts a plan to demolish the old house where his Grandma Noda has lived for over a thousand years and where the tigers, the memories and history of his family, still roam and dwell in the “dark corners that never creaked” to make a parking lot for his stereo store.
Similar to the Joni Mitchell song about paving paradise to put up a parking lot, Hiro is soon left with a “dark heart” as his recognition of the importance of his grandmother’s house comes too late. The play is eloquently written by Little and the story is a simple one that appeals strongly to children, with a strong cautionary message about losing perspective amid our selfish quest to acquire more and forgetting, destroying or burying our more abstract, yet significantly more precious possessions in the process.
Little uses his little puppets in the same way that a child plays with their plastic toys. He is energetic with them, succeeding in creating traffic jams and a demolition scene that are captivating to watch. He is extremely affable as our puppeteer, with a modest charm which reminded me of a Child’s Television Program host such as Mr. Dress-Up or Mr. Rogers. He does not perform this one-person show like an actor like Rick Miller, who can switch between dozens of crisp, specific, unique character voices within milliseconds. The differences between Little’s characters’ voices are significantly more subtle with none of them being particularly distinct from his own voice. This puts him in between being an engaging narrator of the story and someone who is truly able to inhabit the bodies of their characters.
I’ve heard many people describe this play as being unique and imaginative and full of surprises, but for me this play could not be more logical. Director Theo Pitsiavas is using the way that many children play naturally, either on their own or with one another, to create a play that hopes to appeal to them. The result is certainly a fun, friendly little romp for both the young and the young at heart, but I can’t help thinking that the story these found-objects would have told in the playful hands of a child may have been more innovative and inspired.
Grandma Noda’s Tigers plays Thursday May 6th at 7pm, Saturday May 8th at 7pm and Sunday May 9th at 3pm at Neptune’s Studio Theatre. For tickets please call the Neptune Theatre Box Office at 902.429.7070.