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Performance Wed Nov 28 2012
This past spring, the experimental, multimedia shadow puppetry collective was adopted by the University of Chicago's Department of Theater and Performance Studies as their ensemble-in-residence. After performing a revamped version of their 2010 show, Lula del Rey, at U of C's Logan Arts Center in June, they have completely rebuilt the show from the bottom up to create their longest and most ambitious work to date.
According to press materials, Lula del Ray "is the story of a lonely adolescent girl who lives with her mother on the outskirts of a vast satellite array in the middle of the desert. After a chance encounter over the radio, Lula becomes obsessed with a soulful country music duo, the Baden Brothers. Inspired by their music, she runs away from home and into a world of danger, deception, and disappointment. Set in the mid-century American Southwest and inspired by the music of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and Patsy Cline, Lula del Ray is a mythic reinvention of the classic coming-of-age story."
I caught part of one their dress rehearsals, and was blown away with what I saw. Manual Cinema's three overhead projectors set up behind a screen allowed the group to blend together vibrant, translucent backgrounds, handcrafted 2D and 3D puppets, and human silhouettes to craft a compelling visual landscape and narrative. Combined with sound effects and a live score (featuring members of Chicago indie rock band Thin Hymns), the scenes came to life on screen. True to their name, it was like watching a film being put together in front of my eyes.
Lula del Rey may have a similar sounding name and aesthetic to a certain polarizing pop singer, but based on what I saw, Manual Cinema presents a far more visually and aurally engaging (and emotionally subtle) exploration of loneliness, femininity, and the iconography of 1950s/1960s Americana than Lizzy Grant's stage persona ever could.
Lula Del Rey runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm from Nov. 29 to Dec. 16 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets are $20, $10 for students with valid ID, and can be purchased online at Manual Cinema's website or at the door.