When the War is Over is Robert Smythe's most personal theater piece to date, both because it deals with a personal subject (his two grandfathers), and he appears in it himself.
Of course, Smythe always appears in his own pieces. But, because Smythe's Mum Puppettheatre employs masks and puppetry, audiences rarely get to see Smythe without his black-clad body being swallowed in the darkness of the miniature stage, as he animates the inanimate objects into the people and creatures that populate the extraordinary mythical worlds of his imagination.
This time, Smythe's imagination takes him into the world of his family, and here the myths are the lies and hopes, the deceptions and self-deceptions of family relationships. One grandfather is a self-aggrandizing vaudeville crooner, whose 11-minute act Smythe performs as part of the first half of When the War is Over. The other grandfather is just a mailman, but in telling the story of this simple dreamer, which includes a touchingly inept courtship and a profoundly moving decline into illness and death, Smythe works some of his most astonishingly beautiful theatrical magic.
The piece, Smythe claims, has grown and developed since he last presented it in Philadelphia over two years ago, as he, and as his relationship with his daughter, have grown and changed. In the piece two years ago, after contemplating the web of lies at the center of his family, Smythe announced: "When I go home, I tell my daughter everything." Look for more truth-telling this time around, when Mum Puppettheatre remounts When the War is Over at the company's home base in Manayunk.
When the War is Over, starting Oct. 2, Mum Puppettheatre, 126 Leverington Ave., Manayunk, 893-1145.
-- Cary M. Mazer