Not Your Average Punch and Judy
Aphids' "A Quarreling Pair," A Triptych of Miniature Puppet Plays

Jane Bowles' play delves into aspects of our human enmeshment with intelligence and humor. Add puppets, and the result? "The theatre of the impossible."

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
74 East 4th Street, New York NY 10003
October 29– November 8, 2009
Tickets $18. Information 212-475-7710 and

When is the last time you saw a good puppet show? The characters in "A Quarreling Pair" are far more than your average Punch and Judy. Drawing from boho American writer Jane Bowles' great literary work, this unique show proves that this art form isn't strictly for children. We spoke to Cynthia Troup, writer and a founding member of the always intriguing Aphids Arts Company.

Q. Tell me how you came to be involved with this production?
A. Though "A Quarreling Pair" was Jane Bowles' first completed dramatic work, it's rarely discussed, and any cumulative register of performances is unknown. As soon as I read it, I found it a very enigmatic, compelling and provocative text. A desire to see A Quarreling Pair in performance that motivated my involvement.

The published script covers just six pages, so it came to us to place two contemporary works alongside it, both in order to draw out its puzzling, contradictory content. Hence Aphids' production includes two additional works- a play by Australian playwright Lally Katz, called "Mr. Peterson's Milk", and my play, "And When They Were Good".

Q. NYC is named as the intellectual and inspirational source for the show: can you expand upon that?
A. My research for the play included a journey to New York City. At the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts I discovered more about the venue for the first performance of the play. The venue was a nightclub known as 'Spivy's Roof,' a location that situates Jane Bowles' play firmly within the bohemian artistic 'scene' that flourished on Manhattan during the later years of the Second World War. This scene was self-consciously experimental and avant-garde.

Knowledge of the background to Jane Bowles' play has certainly influenced our production--we include art songs by her husband Paul Bowles, and the stylistic choices we made for "Mr Peterson's Milk" might be described as 'Surrealist'!

Q. What specific challenges and rewards does work of this nature – miniature puppet plays--deliver?
A. The use of puppets might increase the danger of infantilizing the characters, and thus infantilizing audiences. With this in mind, our project has been to give psychological coherence to the triptych overall, and to communicate their sophistication and unnerving humor, as well as their marvelous capacity to entertain.

The task is to create such a strong logic that a complete cosmos is evoked, so that--because of the puppeteering and all the other forms of artifice, and in spite of these--the audience will willingly suspend disbelief and become absorbed in this cosmos.

Q. In your opinion, how's the puppet scene doing nationally and internationally?
A. Puppetry involves letting go of the strictures of 'common sense,' and engaging if not empathizing with the inanimate object. No other animal does this in the ways that humans can. Puppet artists continue to investigate and celebrate this astonishing fact of our human ability, and the limitless forms that puppet theatre can take. The beauty of puppets is that anything's possible; puppetry's often called 'the theatre of the impossible.'

Q. How have you found audiences react to this piece?
A. They feel a great deal has happened in a rather brief timespan; they're charmed, amazed, intrigued, energized. Often they're very reflective too, feeling suddenly encouraged to wonder about the sisters, wonder about the role of the imagination in sibling relationships, and about the limits conventionally placed on communicating about the dynamics of these relationships.

Q. The plays explore our need to feel "safe yet free" in intimate relationships. Why is this of interest to you?
A. For me this theme relates to the possibility of loving well--of developing discriminating wisdom, if you like, about oneself and others. Of course there's no one way in which to try to cultivate this wisdom, except to throw oneself in to relationship, any relationship, with an attitude of openness, generosity, and a belief in one's capacity to learn. What risks! What suffering, what terror can ensue!

Interview by Diana Caporaso.

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