Nutmeat is a comedy about a family of earnest and inept puppeteers eking out their living with chaotic results. Think the Little Match Girl, Hansel and Gretel, and The Gift of the Magi woven together in the style of Buster Keaton. It is a dark and visceral comedy for ages 13 and over that swings the audience from laughing until they cry to laughing so as not to cry.
Behind a homemade puppet stage Ramon Martínez and his son, Martín, forge ahead with their latest show: Little Red Riding Hood. When one of Grandma’s strings breaks, the puppet show cascades into burlesque mayhem. Backstage in their dilapidated hovel, Mimi, Ramon’s wife, withers from the lack of food (and passion) in her life. Martín, unable to please his father, finds solace in a beautiful Barbary organ carved in the shape of a woman. One failed puppet show follows another, straining the family bonds until the characters must take drastic measures to stay alive, all the while making us laugh with their naïveté and candor.
Nutmeat was first performed at the Chalon-sur-Saône and Bourg St. Maurice festivals in France in 2003. The current version was performed in French in July, 2006 at the Alpes-Mancelles Festival in northern France.
“Nutmeat refers to the sweet salty fatty goodness that drives us all to crack, chew, and rip our way through nutshells. And the nutmeat that awaits you in this 55-minute nutshell is the sheer pleasure of watching actors’ imaginations at work.” – Jon Stancato nytheatre.com review, August 11, 2006
Nutmeat is not a play with one playwright. I conceived the piece in 2003, inspired by Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers and vaudeville, but it wasn’t until rehearsals began that the show truly came into being. The cast was international—Basque, French, Danish, Californian. Through directed improvisations the performers took the “skeleton” I had sketched—sometimes vague ideas, sometimes fully-written scenes—and turned it into flesh and blood. True to Lecoq tradition, the visual element took precedent over the textual.
In Nutmeat the actors are physical comedians, mimes, puppeteers, musicians and visual artists. The music is created, for the most part, by the actors onstage. The set is a series of paper panels onto which the setting for each scene is sketched—often by the characters themselves. Ironically, it is the virtuosity required of the performers that makes the ineptitude of the characters so compelling—and funny.
At the heart of the vaudeville genre was the art of cruelty: disparaging jokes, pratfalls and glorified failures. Nutmeat has many of vaudeville’s provocative qualities, but goes beyond simple comic cruelty. The show evokes pathos, moving the audience from laughter to tears in the same scene. The characters are so naïve and optimistic that their plight is “pathetic” in its true sense —we feel terrible as we laugh, but we do it just the same. The time is right for a play like Nutmeat and, by incorporating aspects of vaudeville and burlesque, the play offers a new perspective on an older theatrical style.
–Megan Campisi, writer & director