Debris, playing at the Toronto Fringe, tells the story of a basketball, a fish, and a motorcycle stranded in the middle of the ocean after the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan. Inspired by true events, Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai of Mochinosha, the Wishes Mystical Puppet Company use their shadow puppets to chart the journey of these assorted objects from the tragedy-stricken shores of Japan to Canadian beaches. It’s sort of like Life of Pi meets The Brave Little Toaster, which translates to a likeable show with lots of inventive puppetry and visuals.
Debris opens with a lovely monologue about the vastness of the universe that sets the stage for a poignant story about loss, hope, and perseverance. The show that follows, though, wasn’t quite what I expected based on the lovely opening monologue: it resists being too serious by taking on the cadence of a myth or a children’s story, with requisite jokes.
I felt that this made the tone a bit uneven at times. It attempts to have a balance of poignancy and light humour, but in my opinion the moments of poignancy were more memorable. I saw and absolutely adored Wishes and Yanai’s two shows in last year’s Fringe (The Devil’s Circus and Oni) and know that their comic timing is killer, but with the weight of the subject matter, they seemed to be playing it more safe this time around.
When it comes to those poignant moments, though, Debris is frequently stunning and always technically impressive. This is shadow puppetry performed in front of a screen, revealing its technical magic. The number of puppets that Serai Yanai and Daniel Wishes have to manipulate into place in a relatively short time is substantial, and they do it with fluid professionalism. Shadow puppets are layered on top of one another to create scenes of vast oceans, islands of floating garbage and the gaping cavern of a whale’s insides.
Even more arresting are the moments when the lights turn off and the light-up puppets come on. Every time this happened it was a show stopper, and with a great sound mix of pulsing water sounds and a clever water-light effect, it really did simulate the feeling of being submerged underwater and watching a basketball float as it’s caught in a current, a turtle gliding through the water, a deep-sea diver combing the trash-strewn sea floor.
And really, the puppets are the stars here. Even though I think the dialogue could be punched up a bit, it’s the puppetry that matters most, and with Yanai and Wishes performing so ably at the helm, the show’s visual treats more than make up for any unevenness in other areas. For me, their shows are instant-buys—and this time around, I think this one is good for the kids, too.
- Debris plays at the Robert Gill Theatre.
- Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only.
- Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online , by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West).
- Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
- LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
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