Redmoon celebrates 20 years with puppets, horror horror

By WilliamPrentiss

A cabinet sits on Redmoon Theater’s main stage, its edges jutting out at odd angles. Its doors are closed, but they will soon open to reveal a sleepwalker’s nightmare to the eager audience.

This odd piece of furniture is the titular object in Redmoon Theater’s upcoming play, “The Cabinet,” which continues Redmoon’s experimental spirit with the use of puppetry and unique set design. The play is inspired by the silent 1920 German expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and is told from the perspective of Cesare, a sleepwalker under the control of the murderous Dr. Caligari. The play originally ran in 2005 and routinely sold out. It was conceived by Redmoon Artistic director and Columbia adjunct faculty member Frank Magueri.

“It is an enormous physical cabinet that has a number of different portals, openings and doors that reveal many different scenes, puppets and objects,” Magueri said. “It is all black and white, it is quite scary and it is a great experiment in design and story.”

The play tells the story with puppets, which were made by Lisa Barcy and are manipulated by an ensemble of five puppeteers. Magueri said he used the puppets for the play because the actors can move them in such a way to unsettle the audience. They have a full range of motion, which includes eyes that can cast menacing gazes at the audience and their fellow puppets at the will of the puppeteer. The style of horror Magueri said he was aiming for was more Edgar Allan Poe than Wes Craven.

“I’m working on the good old sketch book of Vincent Price here,” Magueri said. “The whole goal is to frighten, to distort and to make [people] uncomfortable, but in the way great horror like Edgar Allan Poe succeeds at … It continually pokes and prods at, in Poe’s case, the reader, and in ours, the viewer.”

Magueri said the goal of the production was to make something small in scale but deep in concept. The intimate setting is somewhat unusual for Redmoon, which is known for putting on shows anywhere and everywhere with mechanic props of their own design. Redmoon’s headquarters is a warehouse that used to be an ink factory, 1463 W. Hubbard St., and houses both a workshop and their performance space.

Redmoon Theater’s Associate Artistic director, Vanessa Stalling, is directing this second run, which was brought back in honor of the theater’s 20th anniversary. The theater was founded in 1990 by Blaire Thomas and Laurie Macklin and its goal is creating art which promotes civic well-being. Stalling served as one of the puppeteers in the play’s first run.

Stalling has directed other Redmoon productions, but “The Cabinet” was her first experience with puppets. She comes from a dance and ballet background, which she said helped inform both in her performance and directing of “The Cabinet.”

“One of the things Frank said to us early on when we were developing the piece was to find the dance so we consider the choreography behind the puppetry a dance,” Stalling said. “Those two art forms do work together in a lot of similar ways.”

Stalling said that both directing and acting in the production has been a challenge because of the detailed nature of the work. Individual puppets are moved by multiple actors who have to pay close attention to one another to make the puppets lifelike. Stalling said while the initial hurdle of mastering movement isn’t easy, the truly difficult part for the performers is the interaction between the different mediums such as video images, music and spoken word the play utilizes.

The first show of “The Cabinet” will be on Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. on the Redmoon Central stage at Redmoon Theater, 1463 W. Hubbard St. Tickets are available at