Planet Egg explores the creative frontier of puppetry and space – with humor, enormous visual appeal and some serious issues bubbling beneath the surface.
In its take on the classic Sci-Fi scenario of alien landing, it is both fitting and ironic that the creative team behind this work is international – an Israeli director Zvi Sahar and co-director Michal Vaknin, an American puppeteer Justin Perkins, and musician Ien Denio. Sahar began work on the project as a directorial exercise at the University of Haifa, the current full-length version premiered at the Labapalooza! Festival at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn and made its Israeli premiere at the International Puppet Theater & Film Festival in Holon, on July 28, 2011.
Viewing Planet Egg in Holon, there was an element of ritual to the performance, which combined a film, with live action puppet theatre and sound. An abundance of objects were set out on two tables on both sides of the stage – one for the puppeteers, and one for Denio who sat behind the table, surrounded by laptops and the bizarre collection of items from which she planned to coax sound. A large screen dominated the center of the stage. A small puppet theatre was set up towards the back of the stage, with a central black cylinder encircled by a flat surface, creating the puppet stage and background for the film, with a camera at the ready to capture and transform the action. The puppeteers, Sahar and Perkins, stood between the puppet stage and the table of props, dressed in black. They pulled on black gloves, and prepared to disappear.
All the action taking place in the puppet theatre was translated to the big screen, creating the kind of illusion familiar to fans of old science fiction films. The story is deceptively simple: adorable alien made of metal and plastic electronic parts crash lands on Planet Egg; alien encounters locals. It is a meeting of opposites, Planet Egg is made of, well, yes – egg. The surface of the planet is a fried egg, complete with bright yellow yolk volcano, and its inhabitants are what we usually like to think of as tasty breakfast foods: scallions, mushrooms, broccoli and more.
The visual effects are stunning, creating an effective and beautiful illusion. Both the metallic “alien” and the neighborhood guy “scallion” are delightfully expressive. Yet setting the puppeteers and sound onstage creates a distance from which one can contemplate the action, experiencing illusion and distance from the illusion simultaneously. The choice of familiar objects creates a similar sense of dissonance, experiencing the familiar as something alien and strange.
Contemporary and quirky, Planet Egg presents an entertaining story with underlying themes of social or philosophical issues. How do we encounter the “other”? Do we evaluate our actions by their intentions or consequences? Planet Egg is an excellent performance piece, with a sophisticated humor that could well launch it as a cult classic.