Debris, created and performed by Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai, tells the story of the 2011 Japanese tsunami from the perspective of three characters thrown together in a small boat adrift on the Pacific Ocean through light and beautifully intricate puppets made of shadow.
This show tells its story almost like it’s a cross between a picture book and a narrated animation. The world it renders on the projection screen is gorgeous, shifting with the fine manipulation of light and shadow, and changing abruptly through moments of darkness like the turn of a page. This dichotomy reveals on one side this show’s biggest strength, and on the other the avenue along which it stands to develop the most.
In the moments when the light is on, and the puppets (made by Yanai) are visible, everything you could want from this show happens. The images are intricate, vivid, and interesting. They move smoothly and with great pacing to the atmospheric sounds that fill the space. I was never for an instant bored while watching these mesmerizing puppets and the backgrounds through which they move.
Between these moments, when the flashlight is off, all the fascination that I’ve built over the last moments, the momentum that’s been created in the story, takes a pause into a dead space. Sometimes Wishes, who tells the story, talks through the transitions in scene, and this works very well. We don’t have the chance to focus on the darkness when we are still engaged by his voice. But there are many more transitions in which we are left alone with the soundscape, which just can’t carry all the attention on its own.
Wishes does good work as the fish, the motorcycle, and the basketball, giving them each unique voices that help bring their unique characters to life. I wish more of the words spoken could be done by these characters, rather than with the voice of the narrator. This voice does a good job carrying the context of the story, but doesn’t belong so prominently in the moments of dialogue between characters, saying “he said,” and “she said,” at regular intervals. It’s unnecessary when we have the distinct voices of the characters, not to mention their puppet-avatars to show us who is speaking, and how the others are reacting.
Cleaning up the narration here would increase the show’s pace, and keep the audience better engaged with the unique and interesting story. It needs a bit of tightening together of its script so that the puppets and the story they’re telling can shine through like they’re supposed to.
Wishes Mystical Puppet Company
Co-created and performed by Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai
By Wes Babcock