The publicity for “Attack on Tunggorono” is compelling, which accounts for the full house on the evening I attended. But well before the end of the show, several patrons had quietly slipped out. We were promised “princes, gods, demons, hilarious clowns, [and] magical transformations,” using Indonesian shadow puppetry to comment on current events. Unfortunately the show is meandering, overlong, and under-rehearsed.
The shadow puppets, in a Javanese style called wayang kulit, are indeed beautiful. They are intricate in design and delicate in construction, and the images they cast against puppeteer Marc Hoffman’s backlit screen are charming. But this sole positive of “Attack on Tunggorono” fades from mind as the show drags on.
According to the program, there are no scripts in wayang kulit “and the puppeteer is required to tell the stories anew each time.” But Hoffman’s heavy-handed and oversimplified reiteration of the Russian invasion of Ukraine—it cannot really be called an allegory because he essentially swaps out the names of today’s players for those of his puppets—is incoherent.
There were lengthy pauses and not all were due to the technical challenges of manipulating the puppets. At times there would be no motion on the screen, or even no puppets behind it, and no dialogue. Character motivations lurched radically—two characters fighting to the death grow bored, wish each other good night, and head home. A demigod lamenting the invasion of peaceful Tunggorono by aggressor Trajutresna ends his oration by bizarrely switching to a hackneyed stand-up routine. (There were multiple jokes about George Santos for some reason.)
At one point, the show’s narrator reappeared and began to thank the artistic team and the Fringe staff, suggesting the performance was over. But then the story suddenly resumed. On one occasion, a character expressed confusion with a plot point, and another said it would only make sense if one was familiar with a particular Javanese myth (which of course the audience was not). That being the case, why bring it into the story at all? Or, better yet, why not incorporate the myth into the story?
The villain King Boma expresses himself almost entirely by deep, evil laughter. His soldiers express themselves with evil laughter in a slightly higher pitch. Among the major characters, there are few efforts to provide different voices, so it is hard to tell who is speaking. Most of the final half-hour consisted of puppets moving in and out of view, thwacking each other and making guttural noises. Late in the war scenes, King Boma is hit by an arrow and falls to the ground, then he turns up in the next scene in total health.
I have enjoyed the little bit of shadow puppetry I’ve seen and was looking forward to an evening of it presented by a master. “Attack on Tunggorono” fell far short of expectations.
Running time: One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Appropriate for all ages.
“Attack on Tunggorono” remaining performances are July 22 and July 23, 2023 at Capital Fringe Rind, 1050 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington 20007. For tickets and information, click here. For more information and tickets for the festival which runs through July 23, 2023, go to the Capital Fringe website.