When you enter the world of The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet be prepared to free yourself from expectation. To be sure, you will find puppets within the Mead Theatre Lab, but do not expect any Pinocchios or Punches or Judys to spring into being. These puppets are of a wholly different order. The puppets of Kismet are not the result of Geppetto the woodcarver carefully birthing his baby nose first. No! These puppets are the result of what happens when you leave your junk drawer unattended. Genetic mutations occur. That old shoe horn hooks up with that lightbulb. That magnifying glass finds a bit of solace with that paint roller. In other words, the puppets of Kismet are a breed unto themselves.
Wit’s End Puppets does a marvelous job immersing the audience into their world.
And for the first fifteen minutes you will sit amazed, not only examining the details of each puppet but also at the marvelous relationship between puppet and puppeteer; for unlike most puppet theatre where the puppeteer remains hidden, in the world of Kismet the puppeteers are in full display. Imagine if you will, five children during a play therapy session. You are the privileged observer. Each child has created his or her own toy, or puppet, and its not some manufactured “thing” the child will abandon after one brief use; it is the real deal—a toy birthed from the child’s own imagination. The focus, the joy, the anguish—whatever emotions the puppet-toy should be experiencing, the puppeteer-child is, and you the audience witness that authentic expression close up and personal.
And then there are the actions and objectives each puppet engages in. In the opening gambit, Lightbulb Man—and you will not find these puppet names in your program—quests for current, as in a current of electricity. Air Pump Plane takes brief flights from one landing zone to the next. Magnify Boy helps clean up a mess. We enjoy each detail of invention.
Wit’s End Puppets does a marvelous job immersing the audience into their world. Puppeteers Cecilia Cackley, Genna Davidson, Amy Kellett, Matt Reckeweg, and Amie Root play as only children can play; and we are pulled into their enthusiasm and commitment.
Where Wit’s End stumbles is with the story devised by Cecilia Cackley, Genna Davidson, and Amy Kellet. The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet has epic dimensions—worlds destroyed, worlds reborn—but its journey does not possess enough details to bring its characters fully to life. Instead, Kismet presents us with the broad contours of a tale and the traits of character without the soul.
When death descends on the world of Kismet in the form of a vampire umbrella, the world of many cabinets is destroyed, leaving only Magnify Boy alive and well. He ventures forth looking for a new world. He finds one in a world of paper, or bones, or water, or ice, or amoebas. He attempts to adapt to this new world.
At this point the audience is introduced to a whole new cadre of puppets, from Paper Serpent, to bouncy Curly Q, to Squiggly Fish. But those vampire-umbrellas are never too far removed from any world. And we await their return.
What the story of Kismet does not have are the details of plot that might have given that broad outline sufficient substance, and allowed us, the audience, to fully engage with its outcome. As a result, we are left to ponder some of the activities of both worlds without truly being able to follow them. We are left to wonder: What is going on? This is not to say, however, that cohesion is absent. Moments suggested a through line, as when Matt Reckeweg’s Magnify Boy tried to learn to bounce like Curly Q or when Squiggly Fish played rough house with him. More of those inventive moments and a stronger story might very well emerge.
Until then we are left to witness the puppets and the puppeteers. And they do entertain. The fantastic puppets—designed and built by Cecilia Cackley, Genna Davidson, Russell Matthews, Heather Carter, Amy Kellet, Matthew McGee, Niell Duval, and Pat Germann—are a veritable feast of creativity.
The production team also did a fine job, even if at times some of the lighting cues puzzled me. Director Carmen C. Wong gently guided the show’s hyperactivity into focus. Scenic designer Samina Vieth presented us with two visually intriguing Poor Theatre worlds. And Sound designer Nicole Martin kept us auditorily amused.
Kismet is a world worth visiting as its door opens upon a world of possibilities.
Running Time: 70 minutes.
The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet plays at Flashpoint, the Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G Street, NW, Washington, DC, through May 19. For tickets click here.