by John Stoehr
In his Republic, Plato asked a question that's been dogging us ever since: Is there more to the world than what we can see and hear and touch?
The question sprang from what has come to be called the Allegory of the Cave, in which enchained inhabitants, who'd never seen anything but shadows flittering on the walls, believe that the shadows are reality, not a representation of reality. Plato's point was that the philosopher, wise as he is, knows a reality ultimately exists beyond our senses.
You can see the theatrical potential of shadows cast on a wall, and of keeping theatergoers on their toes. Theater aims to fool us into believing in the unreal — even if just for a suspended moment.
Which is precisely what Basil Twist aims to do with his new, um, twist on an old art form. The acclaimed puppeteer returns to Spoleto after four years. His new puppetry creates illusion using techniques now dead in Japan.
It's called dogugaeshi. It is a type of Japanese puppet theater that employs an elaborate matrix of screens, each of which flip, open, close, shift side to side, slide up and down, move backward and forward. The screens are hand-painted with images of fish or birds or water scenes. Dogugaeshi (pronounced DOH-goo-ga-EH-shee) gives puppeteers full command of three dimensions to create milieus in which to tell stories.
(Image courtesy of the Japan Society)