• Theater Review: Bread and Puppet gets religion
    By Jim Lowe
     | July 07,2013
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    Mary weeps after the death of Jesus in Bread and Puppet Theater’s “Piero Della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross (Exultation Manufacture with Crucifixion of Oppositionist).”

    Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Bread and Puppet Theater has “found Jesus” — though there are those who world argue that Vermont’s world-famous political theater never lost him.

    With “Piero Della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross (Exultation Manufacture with Crucifixion of Oppositionist),” being performed Fridays at the Bread and Puppet Farm in Glover through Aug. 23, founder Peter Schumann has created a clear tribute to Christian theology — with, of course, a contemporary political application.

    Schumann based the hour-long show on Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca’s 15th century frescoes adorning the sanctuary of the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy. Like Francesca, Schumann takes plenty of liberties with the legend of twigs that go on to become the cross of Jesus’ execution and beyond, but the spirit of continuity remains.

    In the Bread and Puppet version, the Creation is overseen by a contemporary God, and his creations are contemporary as well. The twigs from heaven (Adam’s apple tree in the legend) are planted in the corpse of Adam and grow into a huge tree.

    King Solomon, imposing and fluid in this version, attempts to use wood from the tree to build his temple, but it refuses to conform. So, instead, it’s used for a footbridge. When the Queen of Sheba sets foot on it, she recognizes it as holy. The tableau recalls Francesca’s original.

    The Crucifixion is a particularly brutal affair with faceless participants — no doubt, representing man’s inhumanity to man — wearing blood-stained aprons. The wit, including one nose-thumbing crucifier, actually underscores the horror of it all. The Resurrection was a bit clumsy, but made its point.

    The cross continues to be fought over. In one particularly effective scene the powers of good fight for ownership of the cross. After the Annunciation, Schumann’s version points out that crucifixions are continuing — with the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

    The Bread and Puppet tale is told with puppets and masks familiar to fans and, oddly enough, add a real human feel to this apocryphal story — emphasizing its moral lesson. Accordion music and chant-like singing add to the mesmerizing atmosphere.

    The location of the performance adds even more impetus to the tale. The Paper Maché Cathedral/Dirt Floor Theater is indeed that. With its walls adorned with dark frescoes, reliefs and statuary of stylized people, it appears as a contemporary Gothic sanctuary to humanity.

    Indeed, Bread and Puppet Theater has found religion — the religion of humanity it has always fought for.

    Bread and Puppet Theater

    Bread and Puppet Theater presents “Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross (Exultation Manufacture with Crucifixion of Oppositionist)” at 7:30 p.m. Fridays through Aug. 23 at the Bread and Puppet Farm’s Paper Maché Cathedral/Dirt Floor Theater, 753 Heights Road (Route 122) in Glover. “Total This and That Circus” will be presented at 2 p.m. Sundays July 7-Aug. 25 outdoors at the Bread and Puppet Farm. Admission to all shows is free, but donations are appreciated; call 802-525-3031, or go online to breadandpuppet.org.

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