Castiron Carousel in the Press

Willamette Week

Portland Fall Arts Guide 2013: 24-Hour Arty People

A day in the life of Portland’s working artists.

Column: Innsmouth Inktank: Interview: Of CastIron Carousels and Cthulhu

By April 23, 2013


Welcome to the Puppets of Portland

by Inara Verzemnieks, The Oregonian



The Madness at Moorgate Prison


Lose your strings

Friday, February 16, 2007

A friend hears that I am off to Drunk Puppet Nite.

What's that all about? he wants to know, and before I can answer, he offers his own theory:

It sounds like the front for a wild Bacchanalia, he says, people running around making puppets do all the nasty things they don't dare, then arguing absolution: "Oh, it's not my fault -- the puppet did it."

He sounds impressed.

I laugh. But later, as I sit in the darkness of the Someday Lounge, packed shoulder to shoulder with dozens of people, watching the story of a man who loves -- and I mean loves -- his cat and his dog, I realize that my friend may not have been so far off with his puppets-and-inhibitions theory. A little extreme, but not so far off.

Before the night is over we will see puppets on meth, puppets giving birth, puppets committing siblicide.

"Join us puppets in our drunken chicanery," urges the evening's emcee, a nattily dressed ventriloquist's dummy (well, really a man, named Noah Mickens, made up to look like a ventriloquist's dummy, the thin black lines of a hinged mouth traced along his cheeks).

He is top-hatted and turned out in a pinstriped suit, caressing a bottle of Chardonnay throughout the night. "The puppeteer who lives inside a glass bottle will relieve you of the lofty brains that complicate and obfuscate what you need to perform," he says.

Yes, there's plenty of chicanery. But the night also brings moments of strange and unexpected beauty: man and puppet, seemingly fused, the puppet hanging from the man's neck, illuminated only by a light on the man's head. They dance together in the dark as one, accompanied only by the sound of breathing.

(The man, Dan Luce, who has engineered the puppet to respond to his movements, has one of the most poetic bios in program. He is, it says, "fascinated by the profound beauty inherent to sorrow, insecurity, and other generally undesirable aspects of the human condition.")

I am sucked in by the exquisite marionettes of CastIron Carousel, creatures unsettling and touching all at once, jerking and twitching inside a small stage designed to look like a laboratory. Although at one point I can see a hand hovering in the air above them, it does not break the spell; I feel like I have literally crawled inside their odd little world of misguided experiments, pneumatics, gears, mad scientists and smoke.

I find myself believing, too, just as fiercely in a puppet fashioned from plastic bags that dreams of winning a cruel talent show, only to see its hopes dashed by a Twinkie that sings "America the Beautiful."

I study the Twinkie, its mouth open wide, exhaling a high note, and I feel strangely happy, even though I have yet to visit the bar.

So, I think this is what happens when we are cut loose of our strings.

If this has piqued your curiosity about puppetry, Tears of Joy offers some family friendly fare you can catch right now: "The Shoemaker and his Elves" runs through Feb. 18. Some more experimental fare returns to the Someday Lounge, 125 N.W. Fifth Ave., March 1-3, with "The Vertigo of Sheep." See for more information.

Inara Verzemnieks: 503-221-8201;