REVIEW: Haff, the Man – Falling Girl (Theatre Zarko)


The Gossamer Poetry of Light and Dark


Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko

Theatre Zarko presents
Haff, the Man and   Falling Girl
Haff, the Man: written and directed by Michael Montenegro
Falling Girl: co-directed by Ellen O’Keefe and
Michael Montenegro 
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through November 21  |  tickets: $13-$18   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Theatre Zarko does something far more profound than ably tell stark, simple tales with charming puppets. They revive the very meaning and value of Symbolist Theater for Chicagoland audiences. Artistic Director Michael Montenegro has a vision—and that vision is to mount productions that reawaken the Symbolist mission of creating drama as poetry, not just re-do Symbolism as a period movement, creaky with inbred art house nostalgia. He and his ensemble of performers succeeded last season with The Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos. They win once again with Haff, the Man and Falling Girl at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.

In fact, the show provides the best of both worlds. It contains all the immediacy and risk of live theater, while integrating light (Scott Lee Heckman), music (Jude Mathews), sound, projections (Ellen O’Keefe) and movement to almost pristinely pure cinematic effect. Even the performers’ stately movements – setting up between scenes – take on a ritualistic element within the overall performance, replicating the economy of modern poetry. Nothing is wasted. Every word, every sound, every puppet’s shaky gesture or turn of the head generates deep and lasting poetic impact.

Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko Haff, the Man generates tension and suspense through the two warring halves, literally, of one desolate man, Lou. The left half of Lou retreats reclusively and bitterly at home. The arrival of his right half is an unwelcome visit, as if from a dangerous stranger or an enemy with which he’s achieved an uneasy détente. But the right half of Lou has met a young woman and wants to take the rest of him forward into a new and promising future. Lou’s woundedness recalls left brain/right brain theory and the puppeteers are masters at suggesting mood, as much as the orchestra sets up perfect atmospherics with singing bowls and African djembes.

Montenegro and O’Keefe have adapted Falling Girl from a short story of the same name by Dino Buzzati (English translator Lawrence Venuti). A young woman jumps off the top of a city skyscraper, not to end  her life but to begin it. She jumps, not from depression or desperation, but out of anticipation.Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko “They’re waiting for me down there. Opportunity. Romance. The true inauguration of my life. I hope I’m not late.”

Is she delusional? Is her jump really a cry for help? Or is it a daring act beyond the comprehension of the people who witness it? Her witnesses are many–jaded party-goers who think that young women throwing themselves off of buildings are “an interesting diversion for the tenants.” Others urge her, as if to stop her in mid-fall, “You still have time to rush around and be busy.” A line of identical secretaries begs her to take them with her. What’s more, Falling Girl’s fall seems interminable, suspending her and all who watch her in a dreamlike state.

Falling Girl and Haff, the Man are the stuff of dreams. Theatre Zarko’s interplay of light and dark with each story evokes the silver screen. At the same time, their production is homey, earthy and intimate. They have achieved both epic and minimalist theater; they have found the macrocosm in the microcosm.

Rating: ★★★★

Show runs October 8 thru November 21 at Noyes Cultural Arts Center.  (Friday and Saturday at 7pm & 9pm; Sundays at 3pm).  Note: This production is not recommended for children.

Haff the Man - Theatre Zarko - Noyes Cultural Center - a photo of Haff, the Man. Carl Wiedemann photographer. 



An glimpse of Theatre Zarko’s new production "Haff, The Man" which premieres at the festival "The World is Flat, a weekend of toy theatre" at Links Hall in Chicago, Feb. 25 -28, 2010. Theatre Zarko is a puppet symbolist company based in Evanston, Illinois. Artistic Director: Michael Montenegro, Music Director: Jude Mathews. This rehearsal video was taken & edited by company member Karen Hoyer, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010.




The Art of Making Picture Books - Theatre Zarko course

Theatre Zarko Fall Classes.

Starting October 13, 2010

The Art of Making Picture Books

More info here.

2 Responses

  1. […] Haff, the Man/Falling Girl  Theatre Zarko (Oct 2010) Written by Michael Montenegro Directed by Montenegro and Ellen O’Keefe our review  […]

  2. […] Theatre Zarko, with Klown Kantos/The Sublime Beauty of Hands in 2009 and Haff the Man/Falling Girl (our review ★★★★), which we named as one of the top 25 shows of 2010. Montenegro eschews the limelight, […]

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