How exactly does a puppet theatre company dramatize something as serious as the Icelandic banking crisis? Vikings, that’s how. Those ancient pirates “were etched into our collective company brains,” says Gabrielle Brechner of Wakka Wakka Productions, an ensemble with strong Scandinavian ties. Vikings led to Iceland, and Iceland led to SAGA, Wakka Wakka’s fantastic but tragic tale on display at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City through April 14.
Wakka Wakka (it’s a Muppet reference) is no stranger to offbeat subject matter. Its Baby Universe was a science fiction romp through the galaxy, and The Death of Little Ibsen was about, well, just what it sounds like. These and other productions earned the company a reputation; Drama Desk nominations and an Obie grant have followed suit.
Brechner, who is joined in leadership by Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock (SAGA’s co-writers, directors and designers), finds that “the possibilities for magic are endless” in puppet storytelling. She also believes that people’s “exposure to puppets as children” gives Wakka Wakka a subconscious edge: “It really enables an automatic response to liking the characters.”
And while American audiences may not relate to the alien sweaters and foreign volcanoes of SAGA, they will certainly connect to the economic trials depicted therein. “I don’t see much difference between the situation in Iceland and the situation in the U.S.,” says Brechner. “The specifics can be quite different, but in terms of fallout for citizens, they all seem much to same to me.”