|A Facebook puppet hanging from the ceiling. I'm sure the mirrored ears have something to do with social media narcissism.|
A most delightful and unexpected thing happened last Saturday. After one gal pal decided she wanted to hang out, four of us ended up watching Pablo Cano's Red Velvet Theater -- a certainly eclectic and marvelously eccentric 48-minute show featuring crooner songs from the old days played on an actual vintage turntable, complete with crackling and bumps, as well, of course, artist Pablo Cano himself and his assistant making marionettes come to life.
I knew I had heard of Cano's name in the past, but couldn't put two and two together. On the way to the undisclosed address (Cano performs at home and would rather keep the location private), I said: "This is off-off-off Broadway. No wait, it's off-off Calle Ocho."
Eight street from 27th avenue east is a haven for local theater, all of it in Spanish, performed in converted storefronts or on small stages in restaurants. Theater ranges from kitschy and vulgar to high brow.
I remember seeing plays on Calle Ocho as a child -- community theater harkening to a Cuban culture I would never really know, as I grew up here a Miami "American" kid, removed not only from the island but also from Calle Ocho culture. For me, Calle Ocho theater excursions were always exotic, a wild destination away from my Gables upbringing, even though we were always and still are just a few miles apart.
Imagine my delight then, when I walked into Cano's home -- a beautifully restored 1903 Miami gem near Miami's most famous street, boasting a wooden door decorated with medieval wrought iron details that in some way reminded me of the castle in Pedraza, Spain. It's impossible to walk into this space and not let your imagination run loose like a hellion.
|That's Cuba's famous Caballero de Paris inside the portico.|
There was something a little Rocky Horror about the facade. "Are you sure this is legit?" I asked my friend who had proposed this soirée. "Or is Susan Sarandon going to walk out to the yard singing Toucha Toucha Toucha Me ... oh never, mind."
Inside, red velvet upoulstery greeted us among puppets and a beautiful, larger-than-life framed painting from Cano's days in Paris. I felt like I had been transported back in time, perhaps to the days when Gertrude Stein held salon off the Seine, and imagined that James Joyce or Picasso or Jean Rhys or Hemingway or any those other early modernists dumb struck by the City of Light might walk in through the door behind me to enjoy wine before the performance.
|Pablo Cano at work.|
The performance itself was quaint and lovely, with masterful skills as puppets mouthed the lyrics to tunes such as Putting on the Ritz. This is isn't theater behind the curtain, but in your face, with the artists holding the strings and the puppets themselves engaging the audience in a tame Artaud style, suspending disbelief. (Sit in front so that Poindexter the ant will offer a little extra frisson as he tickles your feet.)
|Johnny, a jack of all trades who is also Cano's assistant, was very much the natural dancer. To his right, the yeti puppet.|
Cano's theatre is a very unique experience for Miami -- something you'd never expect in a historic section of Little Havana (well, all of Little Havana is historic). But even more impressive is his wicked talent to bring found objects together; his sculptural pieces seem so alive even when not animated by the hand of the puppeteer. (If you go, make sure you wander upstairs to see the museum room full of sculptures and do pay attention to detail.)
If idle hands are the devil's tool, then there must be a way to explain the devilish, ironic and slightly naughty characters in Cano's repertoire. Nimble fingers work not only into the maneuvering of the puppets but also in the engineering of their creation.
The detritus from our lives, from the street and disposable objects, suddenly become familiars we recognize. Who knew a pet cat could come from a rusted paint thinner can? There's a great environmental message here: every piece of trash, with the right touch and tender handling, can become art.
|Kandy Kane, the burlesque star with a "basket case" for a head, here demurely covers her gigantic baloon boobs.|
Cano has contributed to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami and has an impressive CV. To learn more about his work and the Red Velvet Theater, visit CANOart. All of Cano's puppets are works of art and are available for sale to collectors.
For now, he is hosting shows every Saturday, but call or email ahead to confirm. The space holds about 15 audience members and price of admission -- an affordable $20 -- includes wine plus post-show coffee and dessert.