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‘Birdheart’ a slight but sweet bit of puppet theater

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Saskia Lane, left, and Julian Crouch make creatures out of paper in “Birdheart.” (Courtesy Jill Steinberg)

A crumpled piece of brown paper gets transformed into seemingly living creatures in “Birdheart,” a simple, if slight, tale onstage at Z Below.

A collaboration between acclaimed puppeteer Julian Crouch (who dazzled local audiences more than a decade ago with the macabre, adult “Shockheaded Peter”) and bassist-composer Saskia Lane, the presentation has just enough spirit to amuse families with youngsters who have 45-minute attention spans.

For grown-ups, it’s on the thin side.

Crouch and Lane stand behind a table, and use rods to manipulate the paper into figures that emerge from an egg: a man, a woman, or a large-beaked bird that flies. The “characters” are perched on a surface covered with sand; sometimes their manipulators toss it around. The movement is accompanied by an evocative soundtrack reminiscent of the sea’s crashing waves.

Yet a prelude to the found-object puppetry – in which the artists make each other into puppets-like characters — is more charming.

When audience members enter the small theater, Crouch and Lane are there, sitting on stools, cutting up sheets of foam. Once the lights go down, they wrap the pieces around their heads.

Then they cut smaller bits of the material and fashion it into shapes like facial features. They gently paste the pieces onto each other’ faces, creating Muppet-like heads.

Then he picks up a banjo, she brings in an upright bass, and they begin playing a melancholy tune (she bows the melody on bass), which morphs into a speedy, jovial old-time acoustic number.

It’s a sweet start to the modest show; and afterward, audiences are invited to get up close and personal to the everyday stuff that makes up the story.

REVIEW
Birdheart
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. April 13-14, 8 p.m. April 15, 2 p.m. April 16, 5 p.m. April 17
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
Tickets: $15 to $25
Contact: www.zspace.org

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