Wit’s End Puppets’ ‘The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet’

With enough imagination you can make a puppet out of anything — a kitchen whisk, steel shoe trees, even a leather belt. That’s the chief fascination of “The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet,” the new hour-long puppet show that makes a fanciful playroom of the tiny Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint.

The main focus of “Cabinets of Kismet,” collectively devised by the members of Wit’s End Puppets, is an intriguing little object with a magnifying glass for a head and a paint roller for feet. It zips around like a pint-sized R2-D2, and as it hops from place to place and swivels its gaze to and fro, it also evokes that curious architect’s lamp from the earliest Pixar experiments.

Kismet is its name, although you’ll only know that if you check out the helpful placard in the lobby that identifies and describes the show’s characters (or the Wit’s End Web site). Kismet lives in a cabinet land with other figures cobbled from household objects — a nurse-like thing that looks like a spray bottle, an airplane with a caulk gun for a fuselage, even a telephone handset and base that don’t seem to get along.

What do these figures do together? Hop among the village’s mishmash of cabinets. Clamor for attention. Generally mill about, until some dark-winged flying figures, accompanied by menacing music, lay waste to the place. Only Kismet survives, wandering into a new paper world, where he figures out how to fit in.

For the emerging Wit’s End, led by devisers-creators-puppeteers Cecilia Cackley and Genna Davidson, it’s a start. But appealing as many of their puppets are (especially a gangly paper thing that befriends Kismet), the piece has kinks that haven’t been ironed out by the collective writers — seven people are credited as devisers — or by director Carmen C. Wong.

The biggest issue is whether Wit’s End has devised enough of a story to support the original objects they’ve created. Fancy floating fish-like paper things and a cute little dancer made of a mellon baller look neat, but the lack of meaningful action often leaves them in something that feels less like a puppet show than a puppet display.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet

Created by Wit’s End Puppets. Directed by Carmen C. Wong. Puppeteers: Cecilia Cackley, Genna Davidson, Amy Kellett, Matt Reckeweg, Amie Root, and Rachel Manyuk. Scenic design, Samina Vieth; lights, Zachary Dalton; sound design, Nicole Martin; video design, Kate Ketcham. About 60 minutes. Through May 19 in the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. Call 866-811-4111, or visit culturaldc.org or witsendpuppets.com.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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