by Michael Meigs
I went up to Tim Gallagher after the Secret Agents' first run-through at the Salvage Vanguard on Thursday, congratulated him and asked, "What's the hidden message?"
I know: wrong question. But I couldn't help myself. I'm a narrative theatre guy, analyst, reporter, decipherer of mysteries. And I'd known a fair number of secret agents in my former career, even though I was in the overt diplomatic service, not the covert service.
Tim gave me a grin. "We just like to have fun!"
Spoken like a true secret agent, without a trace of guile. So you can puzzle over it as much as you like after you've experienced the multidimensional fun of Poste Restante ("dead letter office") by Tim Gallagher and Bonnie Duncan. There's a message in there; in fact, there are many messages in their post office of the mind. But they're largely wordless, expressed in an ever-surprising modulation of mime, physical comedy, contortion, ballet, puppetry, music and video projection.
Connor Hopkins of Trouble Puppet and Caroline Reck of Glass Half Full have brought Tim and Bonnie to Austin for this weekend only and they wind up tonight with performances at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the SVT. Their set is a stark and eminently transportable assemblage of cardboard parcels, some of them thoughtfully addressed to the Salvage Vanguard itself. The atmosphere is established by the otherwise empty black box performance space, amply inhabited by evocative sound design using artists that a relocated mossback couldn't identify. Thanks to the Agents for the fact that their program sheet includes the play list, featuring, among others, numbers by Sanjuro, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, Triplexity, Kostas Vomvolos, Circus Markus, Kristin Andreassen and Sufjan Stevens (at last! a name that I recognized).
Here's a taste of some of their inventive numbers (don't worry, there will be plenty of surprises):
-- From a carton at center stage there emerges a Muppet-like figure, full human size, with hat and rounded glasses to scrutinize the audience; you'll realize that Tim has successfully converted himself into a puppet;
-- Tim recruits Bonnie as a volunteer performer and a comic physical debate ensues over who gets folded into the package and how;
-- A tentative courtship and pas de deux becomes an artful grappling of balance, climbing and mutual support;
-- Mystic stop-action movies of origamy and flight depart the screen and literally incorporate themselves into the performers;
-- Puppet magic appears in unexpected places, both bunraku-style and shadow puppetry.
They create an artful world of silent dreams, mime and dance. And it turns out that they have remarkably full lives beyond their Secret Agent identities: Tim is studying medicine at NYU and Bonnie is the mom of a toddler and six-month-old twins. So how do they manage to depart the strains, duties and stressful demands of such ordinary life?
They won't -- can't -- tell you. After all, they're Secret Agents.
Review by Dawn Youngs for www.austin.culturemap.com, December 19
Review by Elizabeth Cobbe for Austin Chronicle, December 22
Click to view program sheet for Poste Restante by the Secret Agents