You’ve never seen anything quite like a performance of Miniature Curiosa. The team of Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn will perform their acclaimed new show, “Moon City” in three performances staged June 25-27 at Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex.
The show is part vaudeville puppet theater, part immersive cinematic experience, and part boundless creativity. As with its most recent performance, “An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater,” the tone of the production is that of childhood imagination at its most nightmarish. As one reviewer wrote of “Moon City”: “It’s like Tim Burton befriended Tom Waits as a child and taught him to make home movies with dolls and play sets.”
“Moon City” was inspired by the life of Frederick Ingersoll, an American inventor who designed some of the world’s first amusement parks and roller coasters, including Pittsburgh’s Luna Park, which opened in 1906 and closed a few years later following various disasters including a visitor killed by an escaped lion, bankruptcy, and a devastating fire.
Dorn said that he and Cook became fascinated by the history of the park while living in Pittsburgh — they’re now based in San Antonio — and were intrigued by how quickly Ingersoll has been forgotten, in spite of the enduring influence of his inventions. For the show, Cook and Dorn take the character of Ingersoll and tell an imagined story of his relentless efforts to build a fantasy land in a forsaken Florida swamp.
Dorn and Cook do not shy away from the inherent horror of the carnival, or the creepiness of puppets. The production’s miniature sets, designed by Dave Morgan, artistic director of San Antonio’s Magik Theater, recreate some of the mawkish attractions at the historic Luna Park, including the “Infant Incubators.” Dorn’s puppets are nothing short of grotesque. The show’s use of bright spotlighting and shadow theater evokes circus tents and carnivals at night.
As with “Toy Theater,” Dorn and Cook will employ a variety of techniques to tell their story, including the clever technique of filming the intricate sets with a hand-held camcorder and projecting the image on a large overhead screen. The resulting experience is immersive — your view on the screen is that of a child wandering, lost, through a seedy amusement park at night.
Cook and Dorn share a childlike glee that infects you with a sense of wonder as you watch them perform. “This is not the theater,” they said. “This is the living room overzealous magician who doesn’t know any tricks.”
“Moon City” promises to be both a delightfully dark take on childhood nostalgia, as well as an utterly enchanting experience.
The performance is made possible through The Artist Foundation’s Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence, which Dorn received this year.
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*Featured/top image: Moon City is loosely based on the life of amusement park revolutionary Frederick Ingersoll. Image courtesy of Zach Dorn and Murphi Cook.