Puppetry’s Eerie Power and Appeal in Polaire Plexus’s Ashes and on Broadway

“Ashes” is a play based on the true story of a pyromaniac who terrorized a Norwegian town by torching homes for a month until he was unmasked as the son of the fire chief. Itis a haunting work of theater that has toured 15 countries and was recently presented at HERE. It is peopled with dozens of characters—the arsonist, the fire chief, the fire chief’s wife, many of the townspeople, and a writer who grew up in the town and wrote a book about the incident  What may have been the most remarkable moment in a show full of remarkable moments was the curtain call. Only three people took a bow.

It was a puppet show from the Norwegian/French theatre company Plexus Polaire, which I write about in detail in an article in HowlRound entitled Ashes and the Serious, Eerie Art of Puppetry


Europeans have long understood that the power of puppetry can be in service to adults as well as children in serious, socially conscious works. This understanding is becoming increasingly evident in the United States as well, though not as much on Broadway as elsewhere.

Whether for children or adults, Puppetry signifies magic, wonder, and excitement. Current Broadway musicals that memorably feature puppets include: The Lion King, whose three hundred puppets in a variety of forms, sizes, and traditions are arguably a major reason of the show’s success; Frozen, whose most engaging character is unquestionably Sven the Reindeer; and King Kong, whose title character—a puppet twenty feet high weighing two thousand pounds with an earthquake of a roar and a tenderly expressive face—is the main draw. One reason for the long-term popularity of Avenue Q was that American audiences were amused by what they saw as the incongruity of (Muppet-like) puppets dealing with adult issues.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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