A unique blend of puppetry, Norwegian theatrical history, catchy sing-song, and black humor, Wakka Wakka’s The Death of Little Ibsen is a phantasmagorical exploration into the life, works, social philosophy, and psychological makeup of famed dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Mapping Ibsen’s life from birth through love affairs, marriage, and successes as a playwright, Little Ibsen finds a charming way to tell a story that is in essence dark, boring biography, with wit and humor.
Utilizing an ugly, expressionistic puppet dubbed “little Ibsen,” not since Basil Twist has a production managed to displace such creative stage ingenuity. I found myself constantly trying to figure out how performers Gwendolyn Warnock, Kirjan Waage and David Arkema managed to generate a half-dozen characters and sound effects simultaneously while shifting props, stage furniture, and various puppets across the stage seamlessly. Reminiscent of Broadway’s Shockheaded Peter, but on a much smaller scale, the production appears child puppetry fare but is in actuality strictly for adults — featuring sex scenes, rambling philosophy, and suicidal dream sequences. When was the last time you laughed out loud at an aging dramatist bemoaning his depressing life? Well picture his subconscious, represented by two puppet “devils,” singing sarcastically at him in unison from the other side of the stage and you just might.
At just under an hour, Little Ibsen wraps the tale up before it has the chance to wear out its welcome, and this is a good thing. No matter how ingenious and funny, there’s just so much one can take of dark Norwegian biography