The company that brought us Martha Clarke’s spectacular dance fantasy The Garden of Earthly Delights is back with a tale of butterflies, jaguars and jungles. Mark Fisher talks about puppets and

Catholicism to the creators of Juan Dare’n.

think this is a piece that both the Pope and Dario Fo can enjoy.‘ says composer Elliot Goldenthall: ‘I‘d love for them both to be in at the same performance.‘ Indeed. I can‘t imagine many companies turning away such prestigious theatre-goers even if they did show up at the same time. I speculate on all sorts ofodd combinations in the stalls. Arthur Miller and Colonel (iadaffi. (‘aryl Churchill and the El Fayed brothers. Liz Lochhead and Imelda Marcos. An enthralling party game. but I must admit I can‘t beat the Pope and Dario Fo.

‘It’s an expansive tale that uses all the different means ofpuppetry.’ explains director Julie Taymor. ‘There‘s shadow puppetry. Bunraku. hand puppets. giant masked performers. hundreds of butterflies and a full carnival. With puppetry you can landscape I don‘t mean just land. I mean the whole landscape of the story. The epic grandness can be achieved through puppetry because you can have hundreds of characters. You can play with theatrical stylisation because you don‘t need to be literal.’

Based on a story by Uruguay"s I loracio Quiroga. Juan Darién is an elaborate puppet. mask and movement creation which comes ccmplete with a full eight-musician score that includes trumpet. violin. percussion and digeridoo. The production shifts magically from showing an entire South American. village one moment to an intimate picture ofthe inside of a


villager’s hut the next. A ten-foot high school teacher. with an open book for a hair cut. shares the stage with his miniature Punch and Judy-style pupils. It's a form oftheatre given the highest respect in Asia and Eastern Europe. where 'l‘aymor spent several years herself. but it is given all too little attention in Britain.

The story is a simple folk tale of a jaguar cub transformed miraculously into a boy and then. due to the intolerance ofother human beings. back into a jaguar. Taking religion's double edge ofcruelty and forgiveness as its theme. the play's South American setting is at the shady frontier where church invades jungle and jungle invades church. ‘When I was first introduced to the story in the early 7(ls.‘ says Elliot Goldenthall. ‘I thought immediately that this was a passion play vaguely disguised. The themes ofcompassion and revenge are constantly coming back in the last 500 years history of Catholicism. The promotion of the Mary figure and the Inquisition are very powerful dichotomies. The play is almost a bird‘s eye view. It objectifies it. It looks at it from outside.‘

So while the Pope is tuning into the mysteries of religion. Dario Fo will be getting off on Juan Dar-{en‘s absorption ofthe popular morality play. And language will be no obstacle to our unlikely Italian audience either. The Requiem Mass which forms the libretto makes use of Latin and Spanish. but it‘s there for the emotional impact of its sound and not necessarily to be understood.

6 The List 24 30 August 1990