Friday, October 22, 2010

A people-and-puppet fantasy about children with mental disabilities opens in NYC

The NY Times review:

Dario D’Ambrosi certainly makes “Bong Bong Bong Against the Wall, Ting Ting Ting in Our Heads,” his people-and-puppet fantasy about children with mental disabilities, interesting to look at. But considering that back home in Italy Mr. D’Ambrosi has for years been exploring theater by and about the mentally ill and disabled, the play shows a disappointing lack of insight.

The play, which opens LaMaMa’s Puppet Series, centers on a child named Loga (Ashley C. Williams), who begins acting up during math class. “Numbers aren’t just numbers,” she tells her exasperated teacher (George Drance) after he asks her to do a problem on the chalkboard. “They have a heart and a brain.” From there the class spirals out of control, two of Loga’s classmates (the three children are played by adults) joining in the disruption.

The most intriguing aspect of the play is that Mr. D’Ambrosi has the three children carry life-size puppets (by Aurora Buzzetti) — alternate versions of themselves, perhaps representing the “them” that most of the world sees. Mr. D’Ambrosi has said he got the idea from an adult actress he has worked with who has Down syndrome and used to carry a puppet as an anxiety-controlling device. There is a striking stage picture at the end of this show, when after considerable chaos the actors leave and there is nothing on the messy school room but the three puppets, looking dead and abandoned, their living counterparts having liberated themselves.

But it is in this liberation that Mr. D’Ambrosi disappoints. He makes an important point about not trying to fit children with mental illness or disabilities into preconceived boxes; the students depicted in this play certainly ought not to be doing meaningless math problems in a conventional classroom. But Mr. D’Ambrosi’s bottom line is Beatle-esque: all such youngsters need is love. That’s an oversimplification that may do more harm to their cause than good.

“Bong Bong Bong Against the Wall, Ting Ting Ting in Our Heads” continues through Oct. 30 at La MaMa, 74A East Fourth Street, East Village; (212) 475-7710,