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Deathscape Plays Theater for the New City 11/10-12/4

Theater for the New City presents world premiere of Shulman's first puppet play November 10 to December 4.

November 10 to December 4
Theater for the New City (Cino Theater), 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thurs-Sat@ 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. (No shows 11/24-25)
$15 general admission; Box office (212) 254-1109,
Runs approx. 70 minutes.
Critics invited on or after Friday, November 11

"Deathscape" by Misha Shulman is a multi-media, puppet-centered, Kafka-meets-Cocteau-in-A-Yellow-Submarine play about dreams where life changes and fears meet. It is inspired by Shulman's own dreams, Jungian imagery and the biblical story of Jacob. Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, will present this new work in its Cino Theater November 8 to December 4.

Performed by two actors and four puppeteers, the play will include a combination of Indonesian-style shadow work, live overhead projector artwork and three-dimensional puppets. Directed by the author, with puppets created by Jane Catherine Shaw, Zvi Sahar, Andrew Benincasa, Katey Parker and Alexa Elmakki.

The play was developed during Shulman's period as Writer in Residence for Toronto's multi-award-winning Crow's Theatre. In straightforward prose, Shulman took five powerful dreams he had during a "wild year" in which his life changed radically, and strung them together as a single narrative. In an attempt to touch upon what Carl Jung termed The Collective Unconscious, Shulman then changed the characters of the dreams from people in his own life to archetypical icons such as Sigmund Freud, Osama Bin Laden, Mary Magdalene and the Dalai Lama.

To understand the piece, it helps to know a little about Shulman. He was raised in Jerusalem and served in the Israeli army as a Commander in charge of Education. His plays often confront Jewish ethical conundrums like national duty and collective guilt from the viewpoint of a liberal Israeli dissident. A New Yorker now, Shulman's dreams, reflecting world events and major personal life changes, are refracted through religious imagery in his own interpretation. He analyzes his dreams from what he considers archetypal religious precedents: those of Jacob in the book of Genesis, particularly the dream of the spotted goat, which is regarded as a dream of a family splitting and of destiny for the young. That dream occurred on Jacob's departure with his wives from the household of Laban. Shulman reflects, "Of his three dreams, this is the one that relates best to the fear of change and the dichotomy of returning to childhood versus creating yourself anew as an adult." According to the Talmud, a dream is one-sixtieth of a prophecy, and "Deathscape" is also meant to suggest that relationship.

The play also addresses the phenomenon of collective change. Shulman compares acceptance of his own changes to our adaptation to global "new realities." He writes, "The terror in the play was something I thought a lot about in the context of the 2009 war in Gaza, the way Israel has dealt with Hamas and the USA with Al Qaeda." Change, he says, is both symbolic and practical. He is painting his dreams with puppets to illustrate "the line between personal and collective experience." Dreams, he says, can help us loosen our grip on symbols and transform our attitudes toward different members of our community. Puppets are meant to illustrate this process.

The audience will experience a collective dream with a linear narrative. The play begins with Freud sending a dreamer on a journey to find an old friend, who has a drug that will bring him back in touch with the things he is denying. As the play progresses, the examination of fear and denial takes the dreamer through open landscapes, old memories, military checkpoints, and into the innermost chambers of the earth. There he meets Mary Magdalene and her assistant, a bat. Finally the dreamer encounters Medea, in the form of a puppet made of water, cloth and tree-branches, who sends the dreamer on a psychedelic inner battle, from which he emerges ready to accept the dramatic changes in his life. His overcoming fear is symbolized, in one instance, by Bin Laden (or rather, his beard) singing a Jewish prayer for the memory of the dead.

To simulate how we can drive our own dreams, much of the play's soundscape will be generated from the brain waves of the audience, as detected through an "Audience Brainwave Sonification Device" developed at Princeton's PEAR Lab. Operated by Robert Alexander, a NASA fellow and scientist, it has a "random number generator" that drives music in styles ranging from white noise to sweet computer generated music. Brain waves of a group of people have been proven to affect a flow of random numbers. As the numbers driving the sound go up or down during the performance, depending on the audience's state of consciousness, their trends (waves) will be reflected on a screen, so the audience can actually see its impact.

Matthew Cabil plays the dreamer. Joseph A. Ware plays a variety of voices. The rest of the characters will be puppets of different sorts.

For the past decade, Shulman and his company, the Boundless Theater, have experimented with contemporary Indonesian shadow technique, taking the traditional Wayang Kulit in a more abstract direction. Working with small, flat rod puppets that interact with live actors both behind and in front of a screen, artists of Boundless have created and performed plays at Theater for the New City, Hunter College and Club Midway as well as in Israel and Canada. In this play, puppetry of light and shadow will employ overhead projectors and hand-held light sources to transport the audience into a dream space. Psychedelic imagery will be refracted and multiplied on all surfaces (screen, cloth, floor, wall, ceiling), becoming bent, changed or "deranged" - or at times seeming too bright in the black space.

Giant abstract marionettes by Jane Catherine Shaw will represent some of the characters. Medea will be made of water, sand and tree branches. Objects such as a rifle, a braid of hair, a gavel, will represent come characters, while enormous body parts will represent others, like a speaking beard for Osama Bin Laden. At other times, miniature scenes will be suspended in space.

Playwright/Director Misha Shulman's first TNC production, "The Fist" (2004), portrayed the dilemma of Israeli Army refuseniks. Some of the dialogue was based on personal statements of Israeli army reservists who signed a public letter stating that they refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza strip. His next TNC production, "Desert Sunrise" (2005), was a "tragedy with hope" that portrayed an encounter in the South Hebron Hills between an Israeli soldier, a Palestinian shepherd and a young, tormented Palestinian woman, revealing possibilities for "ta'ayush" (living together). The play has been published by TCG as part of a volume named "Salam. Peace: An Anthology of Middle Eastern-American Drama." After debuting at TNC, it was produced at Northwestern University in 2007 at the Lillian Theatre in L.A. In 2008, with "Brunch at the Luthers," he changed styles and forsook dramatic realism for Dada to explain the Western consciousness through the minutia in the lives of an absurd middle-aged couple. His 2010 play, "The Fake History of George the Last," metaphorically attacked the notion of the inevitability of violence throughout generations in an absurdist style that incorporated iconic imagery from the Book of Ecclesiastes. All were produced by TNC.

Shulman is a graduate of the MFA in Playwriting program at Brooklyn College, under Mac Wellman. His Plays have been produced in New York at Theater for the New City, Dixon Place, The Drilling Company Theatre and Club Midway as well as at the Lillian Theatre in Los Angeles, Northwestern University in Chicago, University of North Carolina, the Factory Theatre in Toronto and at The Public Theatre of South Florida in Ft. Lauderdale. His work has also been presented in Canada, Australia and Israel. He spent 2008-9 as Writer in Residence for Toronto's multi-award-winning Crow's Theatre, who will present his prize-winning drama "Martyrs Street" in 2012. As an actor, he has worked extensively with the Living Theatre, DADA New York, Bread and Puppet Theatre and Toronto's Festival of Clowns.

His work has been published by Theatre Communications Group, Tikkun Magazine , NOW Magazine, and He is the winner of several awards, including the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition (2009), the Mcglinchee Prize for a Play (2003 and 2004), and the Robert LoBianco Award for Excellence in Theatre (2003). His work has been called "elegant and affecting" (New York Times) "Tersely poetic" (LA Times) "Simultaneously smart and funny" (, "scarily bizarre" (Village Voice) and "nothing short of brilliant" (Jewish Press).

Shulman writes, "Theater for the New City has been my theatrical home for the past seven years. The support and encouragement I've received there has created in me a confidence not only in engaging the world and its wonders and problems theatrically, but also in searching for new, eloquent ways to express that engagement. It has shaped me as both a playwright and a director, with opportunities I received nowhere else."

Jane Catherine Shaw (Puppet Design) is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Theater for the New City's Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival. Her puppetry has been presented at Mabou Mines, St. Ann's Puppetry Lab, the Brooklyn Academy Of Music, HERE Arts Center and more. Shaw also has deep roots at La MaMa, which has presented the NY premieres of all her major full-length works for adult audiences, many with scientific themes. Ms. Shaw works frequently with Theodora Skipitares on her many productions, in many capacities from puppet construction to performance.

Zvi Sahar (Puppeteer) is an Israeli born actor, director, and puppeteer, who has worked with Itim Ensemble with director Rina Yerushalmi, the Be'er Sheva theatre and international festivals in the Czech Republic and Holland. Sahar's latest show, "Planet Egg," underwent development at St. Ann's Warehouse's Puppet Lab and was presented in its full form at the International Puppet Theater and Film Festival in Israel. It was presented at Dixon Place last month.

Alexa Elmakki-Kennedy (Puppeteer) is originally from Hungary. She has designed puppets, costumes and scenic design for shows at the Frederick Loewe Theater, the Roy Arias Theatre Center, and Hunter College. Last spring she designed puppets and led the puppeteers in the shadow puppet play "han OM i" directed by Miguel Suero. She is the winner of the Charles Elson Award from the Department of Theatre at Hunter College.

Robert Alexander (Audience Brainwave Sonification Device) is a media artist, electroacoustic composer and member of the Solar Heliospheric Research Group at the University of Michigan, where he specializes in the sonification of data from the Advanced Composition Explorer satellite. This work has already led to new discoveries as to the nature of the particles radiating from the sun. Alexander received an Outstanding Achievement award from the International Community on Auditory Display and a JPFP Fellowship from NASA. He has collaborated with artists such as DJ Spooky and Virgil Moorefield and performed intermedia work on several international stages. In 2010 he founded the MiND Ensemble (Music in Neural Dimensions), a group that utilizes advanced EEG technology to generate music directly from brainwave activity. Future research will explore the neurological basis for creativity, improvisation and communication. The ensemble is supported by Yahoo! Labs, as well as the Design Lab at the University of Michigan.

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