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Two stage works featuring puppetry serve as companion pieces at the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts

The Pigeoning explores our obsession with order; It's Dark Outside looks at Sundowners Syndrome.



How do you survive the middle of life, and how to cope with the end of it? Two works in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts embrace these big questions.

The Pigeoning is a world-premiere puppet play by artist and puppet-maker Robin Frohardt. Speaking by phone from Brooklyn, Frohardt says she developed this darkly comic, dialogueless 70-minute work at New York's Here Artist Residency Program. Pigeoning depicts an obsessive-compulsive middle-aged office worker who becomes convinced that those dirty, dirty pigeons are conspiring against him.

"Frank" is about 3 feet tall, operated bunraku-style by three puppeteers dressed in black. Other characters include intermittently unnerving pigeons. The musical score is by Freddi Price.

Frohardt's career has ranged from building a room-sized city made of cardboard to floating sculptural junk rafts down the Hudson and the Ganges. Apocalypse Puppet Theater, a troupe she co-founded in San Francisco in 2006, boasts "the world's only bicycle-driven puppet theater," a replica stagecoach.

Frank is a younger version of a recurring Apocalypse Puppet character. His compulsion for cleanliness, says Frohardt, is a metaphor for our culture's need to control everything from germs on up. "I do feel like there's this obsession with safety and control. It's almost become an industry," she says. "The show is about letting go of that sort of thing, letting go in general."

The flipside of lost control is depicted in It's Dark Outside, a U.S. premiere by Australia's Perth Theatre Company. Like The Pigeoning, the 50-minute show is dialogueless and incorporates puppetry and original music. But it blends in masked human characters and animation to tell the story of an old man with Sundowners Syndrome, in which some Alzheimer's patients are overtaken at dusk by a compulsion to wander off.

Dark Outside was recently acclaimed at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Speaking from Perth, Australia, via Skype, Arielle Gray says that she and co-creators Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts were inspired by spaghetti Westerns. Thus their aged hero heads off into the wilderness, stalked by shadowy nemesis, on a "visual adventure" complete with cinematic showdowns.

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