Puppets lose their heads when racism and waning love marry
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Half a century after the events, French Theatre company Les Anges aux Plafond have adapted the subjects of late Franco-Russian author Romain Gary’s novel ‘Chien Blanc’ (White Dog), published in 1970, for a technically-savvy and creative stage show with puppets. It premièred in September 2017 at the World Puppetry Festival in Charleville-Mézières.
Les Anges aux Plafond call their play ‘White Dog’, the name used in the south of the United States for dogs trained to hunt and attack Black slaves, a practice which had continued in the 20th century.
Romain Gary and his wife, the actress Jean Seberg (‘Au bout du souffle’ – ‘Out of Breath’) were living in the US in the 1960s.
The Civil Rights Movement campaigning for equal rights for all races, was in full swing and peace demos against the US intervention in the Vietnam War were also headline news.
White Dog revisits that period mixing historical references with a drum-beat by Arnaud Biscay. Puppets incarnate Romain, Jean and their adopted stray dog thay name Batka. Batka, when roused, turns out to be a vicious ‘white dog’.
They have him re-trained, and the vengeful Black trainer teaches Batka to attack White people instead.
Les Anges aux Plafond’s, director and puppet sculptress, Camille Trouvé and actor/stage-designer, Brice Berthoud, make a clever emotional, visual and acoustic cocktail out of a range of stage-crafts
Among the crafts used is shadow-puppetry, white paper-cut-out puppets popping up from a revolving segment on stage, body-puppets, masks, hand puppets, video, live music and song (one inevitably being Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’).
“For each subject, we may choose our starting point which is always an encounter between puppetry and stage-design. The scenography comes from the type of puppet we choose first of all, for the main role, and depends on how it moves,“says Berthoud who alternates acting/puppeteering and directing with Trouvé
Whether the Garys’ personal marriage burn-out or historical events are the most telling background for the issues raised about human relationships, racism, hatred, or both. It’s up to the spectator to decide.
“It is also a sort of metaphor of what happens in our country. The people don’t know if they are still willing to live together like Black people and White People in the United States in the 1960s,” says Trouvé.
In White Dog, the conclusion is an unequivocal howl: unchecked hatred causes irremediable madness.