Henrik Ibsen continues to inspire wild theatrical comedy. Last summer's New York International Fringe Festival brought us the Neo-Futurists' The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen. Now we are blessed with an offbeat, entertaining, wildly inventive, surreal, and intelligent puppet version of his life, The Death of Little Ibsen, in which Ibsen comes out of the womb with muttonchops and a beard. That is, the puppet version of him does: a diffident, wide-eyed little creature, manipulated from birth to death by an equally muttonchopped, agile Kirjan Waage, who also designed the puppets.
Every aspect of this show -- written, directed, and produced by Wakka Wakka Productions, which is also credited with "original music, set, and costume design" -- is creatively conceived and inventively realized, from the multifunction set pieces lightly covered with bits of greenery to the Victorian costumes and makeup that give the three actor-puppeteers a homey, ghoulish look. The musical score -- for which Lars Petter Hagen is also credited -- is evocative, and the miniature scene paintings by Jenah Pelley for a digest of Ibsen scenes are breathtaking.
Many incidents from Ibsen's life are condensed and poetically encapsulated by puppets of all sizes. For example, when Little Ibsen goes to school, a paper floats like a bird into his hand. When Little Ibsen decides to run away, two devil puppets sing, "Run, Little Ibsen, run from your mother." David Arkema and Gwendolyn Warnock play all the other roles, sometimes as live actors, sometimes as puppeteers. It's like a savvy, sweet, literary Sesame Street for drama majors.
The program helpfully includes a timeline of events in the real Ibsen's life, which could serve as a helpful Cliffs Notes for a second viewing. At only 55 minutes, the production flies by as fast as a thought, and so does its run, extended to May 26.
Presented by Wakka Wakka Productions
at the Sanford Meisner Theater, 164 11th Ave., NYC.
April 29-May 26. Tue.-Sun., 8 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or www.theatremania.com.