Young Seattle newcomer Kyle Loven just might be a burgeoning genius. His poetic, visionary solo puppet show my dear Lewis has all the spun-out imagination of a kid playing make-believe in an attic, plus all the technical proficiency of someone who's won a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation—which he has, along with big shots such as Mabou Mines, Ping Chong, and Basil Twist.
Loven began building my dear Lewis in Minneapolis, where he worked with Theatre de la Jeune Lune and Open Eye Figure Theater. (He moved to Seattle last year without a job, a friend, or even having visited the city. Why? Because, he wrote in an e-mail, "I love being by water and mountains. And perhaps I'm a little crazy.")
Loven performed bits and pieces of what has become my dear Lewis under an overpass bridge in Minneapolis, but has shrunk it down for Annex's little stage, compressing the show into a stunning piece of small-scale theater. Its story is dreamy and fractured—an old man is recalling his life while he dies, sometimes in clear narrative (getting and losing his childhood dog, nearly drowning while reaching for a toy boat), sometimes in impressionistic passages (a woman wanders around an old house in the woods, lighting matches and eventually setting the forest on fire).
But even when Loven's story jumps the rails into obscurity, his images are mesmerizing and his use of materials and puppets (marionettes, finger puppets, shadow puppets, dolls) constantly surprises: A sheet becomes a stork becomes a house. A newspaper becomes a projection surface for video from the front and shadow puppets from behind, commingling in surreal couplings. He sets a puppet on fire, watches it burn, then dredges another puppet through a pool of water that has appeared, as if by magic, beneath the surface of his desk. His body emerges from his body—I know; it's complicated—to have a gruff discussion about what Lewis's corpus and animus have achieved over the years. (They're especially proud of having sired a baby.) Loven's aesthetic is a little bit Edward Gorey, a little bit Samuel Beckett, and a little bit Czech surrealism—see Little Otik by Jan Svankmajer—and has the raw, beautiful confidence of a young star.
If I had to guess, I'd say Loven will spend a few years here, steadily improving his craft, then move away to greener pastures. But who knows? He might pull a Cody Rivers Show and stick around far longer than we deserve. Either way, get yourself to his wistful, funny my dear Lewis so you can say you saw him back when. And sit as close to the front and center as you possibly can.