The puppeteer/actors of Blind Summit Theatre (Mark Down, Sean Garratt and Laura Caldow) bring the Japanese art of Bunraku puppetry into the 21st century. Basically, that means three puppeteers work one puppet. Here, the puppet represents Moses. “The Table” tells the story of that prophet’s final ascent up Mount Nebo in his last days of life — allowed to view the Promised Land but not allowed to enter, and ultimately buried (by God) in an unmarked grave. This sounds as heavy as a neutron star. Nah. Think “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” or Ricky Gervais or (if you remember the 1980s) the caricatures of “Spitting Image.” Mark Down gives voice to Moses (or the cheeky, cranky, angular puppet actor supposedly portraying Moses) with a smart, sarcastic voice like John Cleese. The titular table (where the action unfolds) stands for the Promised Land. Moses/puppet makes a big deal out of the table (American!) and gets into the metaphysics of puppetry when he’s not grinding his hips (“My parts are totally interchangeable!") and flirting with women in the front row. It’s a brilliant improv performance, veering off in wild directions and dealing with random tangents — like the loss of Moses’ right hand in a bit of audience participation gone haywire. Killer comedy, but the show has heart. I found myself watching the puppeteers’ faces. When Moses is goofy or cheeky, they shine with childish glee. When Moses breaks down in despair at the end, they break out in grief. They all put their hearts into it. Blind Summit shows you exactly how the magic works — and force you to see through all the stagecraft, illusions and trickery. Even so, the magic still works.
IF YOU GO
“The Table” runs through Oct. 18, at Cook Theatre, FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, as part of the 2014 Ringling International Arts Festival. For more information, call 359-5700 or visit ringling.org.