Alive is the first of two devised productions our Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region Two Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy students will critique. Devised theater is essentialy work created by an ensemble, rather than one playwright. Alive also happens to be performed by puppets (and their handlers) with no dialogue. However, Megan Diehl's opinion is loud and clear.

By Megan Diehl

It is hard to imagine an entire audience uttering the most sincere and sympathetic "aww" for a little blue wooden puppet, but Arcadia University's original production, Alive!, is just that kind of legitimately magical moment in live performance that induces those sentiments. With a crazy cast of characters ranging from Half Man/Strong Man to Turtle Tamer, this circus train is packed with one curious new act after another that will ignite your emotions.

Devised by Arcadia's Fall 2012 Puppet Theater Class and helmed by Alisa Sickora Kleckner and Scott Cassidy, the piece rides along completely without spoken word on the many intertwining hands of students. Telling the tale of a group of circus performers on their route across the country, some small details of the plot are easy to miss, but the journey is worth the price of a ticket. Composer and sound designer Zack McKenna deserves the largest round of applause for the sweet, sassy and evocative musical portrait. Whether the puppets' head tilts and tapping toes were informed by the songs or vice versa, McKenna's heart-melting score, played on a single electric guitar, had as much of a role as any character or operator in the piece.

Equally as fascinating as the action taking place on Breanne Pompei's colorful scaled-down train set is the intricately choreographed dance 10 puppeteers execute while bringing the puppets and their stories to life. The quirky cast of characters dance enticingly, perform feats of strength and soar through the air all at the nimble, yet completely visible, hands of the talented puppeteers. While Scott Cassidy's lighting design helps to isolate the action and to stage some truly surprising shadow play, a tighter scope would have brought even more attention to the detailed characters and less to the movements of the operators.

Most touching throughout the piece is the interaction of two characters simply billed as The Boy and The Girl. As we encounter their bittersweet love story--expressed simply by animating an otherwise inanimate object--we are swept away by their unexpected capacity for emotion. Overall, Alive! creates a delightful space where puppets can allow us to feel almost like a kid again and with an enchanting tale told in an truly magical way.