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Puppet cinema troupe brings 'Planet Egg' to Baltimore

By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

12:01 PM EDT, July 25, 2013

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Eggs, cabbage, celery, beets — not great ingredients for an omelet, perhaps, but ideal for a multimedia genre defined as "puppet cinema."

Welcome to "Planet Egg," a show taking over the Baltimore Theatre Project for the weekend with a mix of edibles, found objects, puppetry, music and live-feed video. It's the brainchild of Zvi Sahar, an Israeli-born, New Jersey-based actor, director and puppeteer.

At his parents' home in Israel a few years ago, Sahar was watching his father working on a phone and his mother making sunny-side-up eggs.

"The image of creatures and a moon surface suddenly appeared," said Sahar, 35.

From that flash of inspiration, "Planet Egg" was hatched. Performed by Sahar's PuppetCinema ensemble, the work tells what Sahar describes as an "intergalactic tragedy."

Video projections let the audience see the miniature puppets close-up throughout the production, which was seen at the DC Fringe Festival last summer and Oahu Performance Festival in Hawaii last fall, among other places.

Sahar has enjoyed plenty of traditional theater work, especially in Israel, where he had his own company in Tel Aviv. But the move into puppetry was a natural step.

"My mother makes puppets, and my dad is an engineer," Sahar said. "There were many hours filled with material and mechanism when I was growing up. I found puppets were a better way to tell a story."

And what a story. "Planet Egg" chronicles the adventures of a robot that arrives in a space ship on a distant planet and befriends a creature with a more than passing resemblance to an onion. There are some mushroom-y creatures around, too, not to mention opportunities for the robot to get into trouble.

Although the legacy of vintage, B-movie sci-fi flicks can be detected in that plot, Sahar's outer-space veggies have roots in real life, too.

"There were some parrots from Central America that escaped from the zoo in Tel Aviv and started to blend into the ecological society," Sahar said. "They became the bad guys, eating other birds' food. But there were just hungry and wanted to be free."

Something about that situation caught Sahar's attention and worked its way into the scenario for "Planet Egg."

"I'm not really a big fan of science fiction, but a big fan of mega-dramatic stories," he said. "I'm interested in tragedies and political stories, in the wider sense of 'political.' I tried in 'Planet Egg' to focus on the situation of [residents] facing newcomers. I don't deal with territories, only with hunger, a primal need — someone who is hungry, and someone who becomes his food."

Since the creation of "Planet Egg," Sahar has developed another puppet/video piece that dips far more overtly into politics: "Salt of the Earth," based on the 1984 Amos Kenan novel "The Road to Ein Harod" about a post-civil-war Israel.

But "Planet Egg," for all of its possible parallels with present-day peoples, countries and conflicts, contains no "specific metaphor," Sahar said.

Besides, there are plenty of other things to focus on, what with all the tiny puppets and their actions enlarged on screens. Behind-the-scenes activity is front-and-center here, with all aspects of the production visible, including the making of sound effects — "Celery is good for the sound of breaking bones," Sahar said.

Typically, he incorporates some local grocery items when he brings "Planet Egg" to a town. For Baltimore, that might mean something from beyond the produce section.

"I heard there are a lot of crabs there," Sahar said.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

If you go

"Planet Egg" will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 to $20. A one-hour workshop on making puppets from vegetables will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday; tickets are $16 to $20. All events at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Call 410-752-8558 or go to theatreproject.org