Animal Magnetism

Institute History

  • 1999 Theatre Lab


Mabou Mines’ latest work, ANIMAL MAGNETISM, examines the attraction between the first and third world populations. The characters in ANIMAL MAGNETISM struggle with the problems and possibilities surrounding their allegiance and adaptation to the “Great American Way.” This adventurous tale follows the interspeciel relationship between the rhinoceros and a chimpanzee (portrayed by two actors in body size puppets) and their impossible attraction. Comic situations and fast paced dialogue weave together with a multi-layered musical environment composed by Eve Beglarian. Tin Tin, the rhinoceros, is a black market dealer trafficking in rhino horns and tiger bones for the pharmacology of male potency. Cheri, the chimpanzee, is an environmentalist who works as a word processor and a student in the field of Primate Studies. In her spare time she pursues a film career with Wild Kingdom and National Geographic. She is an overachiever involved with “good causes.” Tin Tin is a hidden force in the underworld, a wealthy eco-criminal in hot pursuit of Cheri. In addition to the two full-sized puppets, secretary bird/puppets groom Tin Tin, insect/puppets and an array of flying puppets add to the suffusion of life inhabiting the characters’ environment. In this world, everyday office equipment and household furnishings come to life.

ANIMAL MAGNETISM fits into the classic form of parable much like Aesop’s Fables or the Tantri stories of Indonesia. The puppetry emphasizes the theme that the magic and hidden forces of life are often disrupted by the wheels of progress and technology. The narrative style and production design will reflect the sense of watching a “live cartoon.” The musical score adds a multi-layered effect representing a wide range of influences. The music comments on the action of the play with contemporary and classical orchestrations, opera, and movie music to underscore the pop sentimentality. The full musical score includes a hyper-real sound effects track and a full “cinematic score.” The rhinoceros and chimpanzee puppets were designed and built by costume designer Susan Tsu at the University of Texas at Austin.

ANIMAL MAGNETISM explores the distance between the hidden forces of nature and the technological forces of modern times. In the play, cultural assimilation is examined through the perception that the animal world needs to be dominated. The third world is viewed akin to the animal world – exotic, strange, beautiful, dangerous. In turn, the third world views the first world as a place of limitless opportunity. The separation and struggle between these worlds is seen through the metaphor of the separation between species – a chimpanzee and a rhinoceros.
—Terry O’Reilly and Lee Breuer

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