BY CAIT WEISS
Tim Watt's The Adventures of Alvin Sputnick Deep Sea Explorer is unexpectedly engrossing. Far deeper than its title implies, its inventive presentation is magical and sincere. There's animation (line drawings done via laptop and projected onto a large, circular white screen center-stage), puppetry (emotionally-evocative creations that completely transform any previous conception of finger puppets), and live action (including ukulele performances, officer-impersonation, and, of course, much simulated deep sea diving), but Watt remains grounded in very real-world concerns, the most pressing of which is global warming.
Within the first five minutes, we’re introduced to a world where only a handful of building-sized "islands" remain above water, those that had the luck/foresight/Tower-of-Babel-esque envy to have been built on top of skyscrapers built on top of mountains. Alvin Sputnick is the post-ice-cap apocalypse, with puppets. And the ever-rising sea level isn’t the only inconvenient truth that sets the stage for Alvin Sputnick’s adventure; Alvin’s wife dies, and as she does so, her soul appears to sink Into the enormous sea, triggering a heroic journey, on par with Orpheus’ hunt for Eurydice, or Dante’s pursuit of Beatrice.
Despite its improbable plot and supernatural leanings, Watt's powerful and intricate storytelling makes us believe. When it moves, the puppet’s motions are beautifully, painfully condensed — and the effect is more cathartic than anything a whole wriggling body could ever achieve. Through the use of multimedia, specifically the tiny, vulnerable, deep-sea-scouting puppets, Tim enchants us with the infinitesimal truth inside this story. Both the puppets’ dependence on Tim and their tiny size in such a large sea underscore how it must feel to lose both one’s loved one and one’s world.
It’s a credit to Tim Watt’s talent that even despite these heavy themes, the audience was often smiling, if not laughing. The puppets and animation play a key role in this: Tim’s tiny world has a great sense of playfulness, and the way his creatures move through their environment is enchanting and delightful, even if those movements are caused by deeper sorrows.
Here's the real sorrow: now that the Fringe Festival has ended, how do we bring Tim back for an encore? Well, if there's anything to be learned from Alvin Sputnick, it's that if a puppet can make the impossible possible, well, then, so can we.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.