For Ububu, Janaki Ranpura presents a marionette play in a garage

For Ububu, Janaki Ranpura presents a marionette play in a garage
Photo courtesy the artist 

Janaki Ranpura opens a new show this week, one that she's been developing for a number of years, in her garage. The play, called Ububu, utilizes puppetry and the performing talents of Maren Ward, Elise Langer, and Skyler Nowinski, drawing from the historical meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and the Ayyubid Sultan Malik al-Kamil.

For Ububu, Janaki Ranpura presents a marionette play in a garage
Photo courtesy the artist 

Ranpura first began thinking about the piece as an undergraduate for her senior thesis project, a time when she was exploring the narrative of belief that's inspired by places, while doing research about Assissi, Italy. 

Later, she developed the idea further while working with Golden Thread Productions, a Middle Eastern company based in San Francisco. In the wake of 9/11, she began focusing on a particular moment in the story of St. Francis of Assissi's life when he met Ayyubid Sultan Malik al-Kamil in the 13th century. 

The script then began to take more shape three years ago, when Ranpura became a Many Voices Fellow at the Playwright's Center. "I was interested by the two cultures meeting," she says. In addition, she wanted to mine how when stories are told, they sometimes reflect the person telling the story more than the story itself. The myth of a story "is constantly manipulated according to what is wanted to be represented," she says. 

The production utilizes wooden marionettes Ranpura created in Prague under the tutelage of Mirek Trejtnar, of Puppets in Prague. The puppets are carved wooden marionettes that are two-feet tall, which come from the Czech tradition. "They are engaging and charming small people and semi people," she says. "They are kind of abstracted characters." 

For Ububu, Janaki Ranpura presents a marionette play in a garage
Image courtesy the artist  

The piece also draws on puppet traditions, as far as the extreme behavior the characters use, like a Punch and Judy show. Meanwhile the set, contained in the intimate space of her garage, is a neutral canvas "with a lot of places to be," says Ranpura. 

One of the most recent elements that Ranpura believes brought the whole project together was the introduction of Ububu, which she found inspiration for while working on an Ubu Roi adaption in San Francisco. "When I added that absurd element, things started to come together as a script,"  she says.

"[The process of scriptwriting] has been an arduous one," Ranpura says, adding that she's been trying to get to a place of narrative completion despite the various places to which the play goes. There's an associative narrative, with an emphasis on the actor/puppet relationship. "Using these small marionettes manipulated by human beings -- they become symbolic rather than realistic." 

The script has a lot of politics in it, but Ranpura says the politics are more of a background canvas of the other work in the piece. Taking on culture clashes of various forms from the crusades through today, Ranpura looks at money, meaning, and "our sensitivity to nature and our ability to receive it."

Collaborating with Theatre Novi Most's Lisa Channer, and Jerome fellows Sarah Saltwick and Jake Jeppson, with advice from Dreamland Arts' Zaraawar Mistry, Ranpura says the process of working on the piece "has been exuberant and wonderful. I wanted to work with these people because of their sense of fun." 


8 p.m. Thursday through Monday, April 17-28, and Friday through Saturday, May 2-3.
Shows takes place in the garage-turned-theater-space behind 3109 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis.
Suggested donation is $20.
Seating is limited to 20 people per show. Reserve early here.

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