Snake in the Basement: The Prosecution of Reverend Bill Pruitt

Accusations of child molestation are dramatized in an emotionally charged puppet show


Through June 10

Tickets are $15-20


Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd streets), S.F.

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In 1999, six women accused the then-87-year-old Rev. Bill Pruitt of molesting them at a school for missionary children in Africa in the 1960s and '70s (Pruitt died before the investigation was completed). Now, with found objects -- newspapers, tissues, cloth, and boxes -- Liebe Wetzel's Lunatique Fantastique relates this harrowing tale with stunningly profound results. Black-clad, hooded puppeteers, directed by Jeff Raz, roll newspapers into snakes that slither together to form a surprisingly harmless-looking Pruitt. They flip a red and black double-sided tablecloth over to make a serpent and pinch corners of tissues and cloth into tiny hands, feet, and heads, molding precious (in the best sense) children. Like magic, these kids appear and disappear with a "whoosh" and the flick of a wrist. Though one might think that newspaper and white cloth wouldn't radiate personality, the actors' energy seems to flow from their fingers to the puppets, creating both humorous and emotionally charged scenes -- and a tangible electricity in the audience. Pruitt, with his long limbs and Pinocchio-like nose, at first appears charming as he proposes to his wife and reads stories to the children, making his later sin all the more shocking. Except for the occasional hiss, the insidious "shhh," and the ironic "Amen," the 60-minute performance is eerily silent -- and appropriately so, since Pruitt ties one victim's head into a knot, sealing her silence. When the local newspaper breaks the victims' story, Pruitt -- who is, after all, made of his press -- takes extreme action. In denial, his wife (also made of newspaper) hides the snakes -- the remains of Pruitt -- in the basement, with help from the church (constructed of boxes backed by snoring puppeteers). These metaphors help Snake in the Basementachieve a transcendence that might have been impossible for traditional actors.

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