My first exposure to the Chicago theater collective Manual Cinema was at its rapturously received 2017 show, Lula del Ray, at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Having seen the troupe only once, I made a note to highlight my calendar anytime it scheduled future dates in New York.
The company’s name gives a helpful hint to what sets its work apart. Manual Cinema is renowned for its use of onstage shadow puppetry and cut-paper animation through a clever combination of old-school overhead projectors and live actors. The result is surprisingly low-tech and high-impact wizardry: Performers with facial prosthetics scramble behind scrims and interact with projected live-action paper puppets manipulated by the projector worker, all on the same plane. It’s difficult to explain but easy to understand once you see it.
Pulling off sequences that mix multimedia and live performance requires split-second timing and exact staging. Manual Cinema has that in spades; you may find yourself watching the machinations of the technician-actors with the same focus and fascination as the play itself.
Manual Cinema’s recent adaptation of the turn-of-the-20th-century YA fantasy novel The Magic City by author Edith Nesbit, making its New York premiere for this run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, marks the company’s first foray into children’s theater. Given the group’s penchant for showy effects, short run times, and commedia-esque exaggerated performance, the show seems a spot-on natural for an all-ages audience. If you’re without kids but still curious to see Manual Cinema in action, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Magic City for any young-at-heart theatergoer.
Why You Should Go: Manual Cinema’s fresh take on live theater, featuring visual effects and clever shadow puppetry, will enchant and amaze young and old alike.
Manual Cinema’s The Magic City
BAM Fisher: Fishman Space
321 Ashland Place, Fort Greene
Friday, February 9–Sunday, February 11
Shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.