January 13, 2015

The long, tumultuous history of Christianity reels by like a silly cartoon in The Cardinals, an uninspired and interminable show being presented as part of the Under the Radar festival. The concept behind the production, which comes from a theater troupe called Stan’s Cafe of Birmingham, England, posits that three cardinals are “on an evangelical mission to broaden knowledge of the Bible — through their traveling puppet theater,” according to a note on the Public Theater website. Alas, the puppets get lost in transit, so the cardinals must jump into the fray to enact famous scenes from the Old and New Testaments. This is, to begin with, irritatingly nonsensical. Unless Pope Francis has radically altered the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church while I was busy playing Candy Crush Saga, cardinals are hardly likely to be producing itinerant theater. Also, if you didn’t read that précis of the show beforehand, you’d have no clue that the cardinals were pinch-hitting for puppets. True, before the tiny pageant begins, one red-robed cardinal in a broad-brimmed hat can be seen shuffling around the backstage area, as if looking for something. He then emits a scream. But the show is mostly wordless (mumbling between the cardinals and their Muslim stage manager can occasionally be heard), and it would take a very perceptive interpreter to deduce that the scream translates as: “Oh, Lord! Where have our puppets gone?”