The brain

The Club

April 18 - 27, 2008
Friday & Saturday 10:00pm
Sunday 5:30pm

Tickets $15

Written & directed by Alissa Mello
Puppet & set design by Michael Kelly

Puppeteer: Michael Kelly
Photo by Jonathan Slaff

"Director Alissa Mello certainly has a beautiful vision that plays out in a very well choreographed performance. "

"I wish I had learned Einsteinian physics from Inkfish, the renowned dynamic duo performance artists Alissa Mello and Michael Kelly. "
- New York Theatre wire

This adult puppet piece uses a variety of puppet types and sizes including shadow, flat toy theater and marionettes. Some scenes will be presented as "suitcase theater" and projected for the theater audience using several video cameras. It is a layered work that alternately explicates science and illustrates Einstein's life. The show opens with Einstein, a large puppet, on an autopsy table as his obituary is heard in multiple languages. Einstein's brain is stolen, which sends the audience "inside" the brain to witness a mixture of memories from the famed theoretician's life and the thought experiments that led to the theories of special and general relativity.

Puppetry proves an apt medium to explicate theories that are challenging to illustrate in the linear world. For example, the production has Einstein racing a beam of light through shadow puppetry. Other forms of puppetry serve equally well: in an attic environment, filled with suitcases and clocks, there are reenactments of his thought experiments. Key theories are illustrated, including:
* the train experiment about simultaneity
* parallel existences (through three time scenes, one of which is when you make a decision that sends a person off into three different directions)
* Relativity (if you move fast enough, you get younger).

There are also multimedia effects. For example, at the end of the play, sections of the Einstein Fuller Manifesto are read while a life-sized puppet signs his name faster and faster while a film of time going backwards shows a mushroom cloud sucking into his brain.

The piece was initially inspired by Michael Kelly's reading of "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman, which inspired the creation of a twelve minute piece for the 2002 - 2003 St. Ann's Lab in Brooklyn. The book took Einstein's theories of general and special relativity and made them into short parables. After that, Kelly and Mello became increasingly interested in Einstein's humanist causes and it led them to increasing interest in Einstein's science.

Their next readings were "Einstein's Cosmos" by Michio Kaku, which deals with Einstein as a visual thinker, Einstein's own theoretical, political and humanist writings, and numerous other biographical works by other authors. Einstein's practice of visual thinking became the key to the genesis for this play as Kelly translated Einstein's thinking from text to objects. The production uses a nonlinear narrative style and visual media evoking Einstein's own visual thought processes.

The piece is conceived and written by Michael Kelly and Alissa Mello, directed by Alissa Mello. It is designed by Michael Kelly. Music, composed and performed by Joemca, will be an audio soundscape using live and recorded found sound, original composition and sampling.

Michael Kelly (Co-Writer and Designer) has been designing and performing puppet productions for over 15 years. In 2005, he founded Inkfish with Alissa Mello and designed, built and performed in their first production "The Nose," a new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's short story of the same name. Currently he is also working with Feed the Herd on preliminary puppet designs for their production of "Gilgamesh." He studied Fine Arts and Graphic Design at the University of South Carolina, after which he co-founded the Columbia Marionette Theatre. He has designed for and performed for a number of puppet companies. Productions include: "Beauty And The Beast" and "Rip Van Winkle" with The National Marionette Theatre, "The Golem" and "Twelve Iron Sandals" with Czechoslovak - American Marionette Theatre, "Body Of Crime II," "Optic Fever," "Timur The Lame," "Helen, Queen of Sparta" and "Odyssey: The Homecoming" with Theodora Skipitares, "The Cry-Pitch Carols" with Tiny Mythic, "The Adventures of Maya The Bee" with The Culture Project and "Time Flies," an original piece for Arts at St. Anne's Puppet Lab.

Alissa Mello (Co-Writer and Director) is a founding member with Michael Kelly of Inkfish, an ad hoc collective whose mission is to create cutting edge, entertaining performance. She conceived and directed "The Nose," which premiered at the Voice 4 Vision festival 2005 and continued on to a two week run at Collective:Unconscious. Other work includes her collaboration with Anna Kiraly on "Slow Ascent" and UFO." She wrote and directed "Time Flies" for the 2002 - 2003 Arts at St. Ann's Puppetry Lab. She is a puppeteer and choreographer appearing in productions created by Theodora Skipitares, and has appeared in productions by Jane Catherine Shaw, Ishara Puppet Theater, and the Czechoslovak - American Marionette Theatre. Prior to her work in puppetry, she was a principle member of Naomi Goldberg's company WeDance/Los Angeles Modern Dance & Ballet in California.

In addition to Kelly and Mello, the piece will be performed by puppeteers Michael Parducci and Brian Snapp. Film and video are by Blaine Hicklin. review
by Richard Hinojosa
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In The Brain, Einstein's brain is stolen by his cremator and preserved in a jar for years after his death. When the authorities discover this, they confiscate the brain and slice it into many thin slices like so much prosciutto and give it to scientists for analysis. I'm not sure exactly what they think they're going to find locked away in there but the creators of The Brain have managed to find some interesting bits from Einstein's life that are still valuable lessons to us today.

The story is made up of bits and pieces of Einstein's life and short explanations of some of his theories. I didn't discover anything new about Einstein here; the most impressive portion of the show is the puppet work and the amazingly intricate details in many of the designs.

There are several white sheets pulled taut along the back wall that are used for projections. A stack of suitcases sits at center stage and there are two large clocks to the left and right. All of these open up to reveal some very beautifully designed puppet scenery. The scenery is all very tiny, so they use cameras to project the scenes on the sheets behind the action. This is where you really see the details they put into the scenery such as wallpaper and tiny framed photos of Einstein's family.

The puppets are mostly flat cutouts of Einstein and other people that are pushed slowly across a scrolling scene while either music or a voiceover plays. The men in lab coats never speak, they only animate the puppets and set the camera and do whatever else is needed. There is one marionette and an almost life-size puppet of Einstein with his iconic messy white hairdo. The animation of all the puppets is done almost ritualistically with very slow and calculated movements making it evident that the puppeteers are professionals who take their work very seriously. The puppets in this show don't necessarily come to life, they work more as visual aides in the telling of the story.

Director Alissa Mello certainly has a beautiful vision that plays out in a very well choreographed performance. The reading of Einstein's letters had the most impact me—especially those relating his anti-war sentiments, which reverberate in our hearts today as we continue to wage an unpopular war. I really felt like I was getting into his mind in those moments. However, the pace is a bit slow. Mello includes a few segments for comic relief and to break up the monotony of the piece, but there are too few to break the feeling that time is creeping along.

Michael Kelly does a fantastic job with the puppet and scene designs. The proof is in the details and Kelly leaves few overlooked. Still, without the camera I would have missed most of them.

Along with the live action video, there are also a few short films by filmmaker Blaine Hicklin that look great. I especially liked the apocalyptic ending segment. Joemca provides an excellent original soundtrack, which is indispensable in a show without any dialogue. Hicklin and Joemca sit at either side of the stage and run their respective work while Kelly, Michael Parducci, Brain Snapp, and Jessica Luck work with the puppets. The puppeteers are remarkably focused and always give the sense that their puppets are the most important things in the world to them.

I enjoyed this show for its extraordinary dedication to the art of puppetry. Einstein's message of solving our differences without violence is timeless and this show reminds us that since we have the power to, quite literally, destroy ourselves with nukes, his message should never be forgotten.

New York Theatre Wire review
by Larry Litt
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I wish I had learned Einsteinian physics from Inkfish, the renowned dynamic duo performance artists Alissa Mello and Michael Kelly. In The Brain, their extremely theatrical methods use wildly diverse mixed media to explain the theory of relativity in a way any theatergoer can recognize. Inkfish provides science education through amazingly skilled and innovative video and puppetry theater arts.

Like education, the plot is so large and all encompassing that we know it’s in there, somewhere. Inkfish’s forte is their technique for imparting the dynamic information. Kelly’s lifelike toy theaters, hidden in and appropriately revealed in clocks, cabinets and luggage of every type, reveal very important scenes in Einstein’s life. Some are very straight laced, while others are witty and downright hysterical. Every man’s life has humor, Einstein is no exception.

Video is uniquely used to amplify Einstein’s theories. You’ll never wonder about relativity again.

The global challenge in The Brain is Albert Einstein’s message of caution to an angry political world. He gifted science new knowledge which in turn led to horrific consequences. Einstein spent most of his adult life warning the world that mankind is in peril of complete destruction if peaceful resolutions to national and international conflicts can’t be realized before some nuclear armed nation sends its atomic or hydrogen bomb to annihilate the other. One nation already did that. It has yet to pay the reciprocal price.

The Brain owes much to the somber, dedicated delivery of men in white lab coats. Blaine Hicklin, Jeff Nash, Brian Snapp and Michael Parducci add believable mood and place to the experience. Joemca’s music and sound design kept the action on a roll throughout Einstein’s life.

Einstein was a harbinger and messenger of a new way of thinking. He couldn’t have foreseen how his theorems would change the world forever. Inkfish knows how to relay his messages. This production should be seen by all who love theater, science and peace.


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