Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 19, 2010

Sock-puppet soliloquy

Palo Alto resident Doug Kalish takes to the stage with one-man sock-puppet re-enactments of classic literature

by Sue Dremann

Doug Kalish donned his homemade sock puppets with relish this week, re-enacting bits of a recent performance of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in his Old Palo Alto backyard.

Hermia, with a bright yellow feather boa for long hair, and Lysander, her comical lover with glittery red heart eyes, engaged in the Bard's banter.

Kalish, an educator, executive of three startups, biologist, managing-technology consultant, and former managing partner at Price Waterhouse, worked the puppets' mouths in wide arcing movements, his voice animatedly reciting the lines. He did not try to hide that he is the one who is speaking.

"Fair love, you faint with wand'ring in the wood;

And to speak troth, I have forgot our way," the Lysander puppet spoke to his lady love.

"I mean that my heart unto yours is knit,

So that but one heart we can make of it;

Two bosoms interchained with an oath —

So then two bosoms and a single troth."

On the words "two bosoms," Kalish comically entwined the two puppets.

The one-man sock-puppet performance of the popular play is one of two performances he has given so far at Salon Menlo, a quarterly reading, film, performance and discussion event, supported by Friends of the Menlo Park Library.

Kalish invented the performances after learning of the multi-media Salon from co-founder and friend Lauren John.

He hadn't considered puppetry until the Salon came up, he said.

"Being a ham and loving any kind of audience," Kalish thought he would find the experience enjoyable after quickly reading through Act II, Scene II, he said. Lysander and Hermia go to sleep in the woods and Lysander is mistaken by Puck (played by Kalish wearing an ivy wreath on his head) for Demetrius, whom Puck is trying to enchant so that he will fall in love with the homely Helena.

"When I had the idea to do this, I went to Jo-Ann Crafts store" where he spent a couple of hours looking for materials for his creations, he said. He took along his granddaughter, who wanted to make princess sock puppets, which she did, he said.

He used as his inspiration a condensed version of Wagner's "The Ring" that he saw performed by director Peter Sellars while Kalish and his wife, Donna, were still Harvard University students. It was performed using puppets.

"It was so incredibly innovative that it has stuck with me to this day," he said.

He also loves the Muppets, he said.

"I'm absolutely devoted to it. I'd watch it all the time. It was literate and funny," he said.

Kalish did not have much prior acting experienced, except for some performances in high school, where he had the lead in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," he recalled.

Reciting Shakespeare took some work, he said.

"The memorization was not easy. I took the script out to the Baylands, and I'd declaim as I'd walk around. I think I scared off all of the other walkers. The Baylands is a great place to rehearse your lines. It got easier over time," he said.

His first performance received wild applause and can be viewed on YouTube by searching under "dougkalish."

Shortly before Halloween, Kalish returned to Salon Menlo to perform Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" with a raven sock puppet he purchased online and appropriately named Edgar.

For this performance, he explored the poem verse by verse, explaining many of its nuances and obscure references.

"I spent a lot of time researching what the poem was about. Just doing a reading of the poem is boring. There are a lot of things that are not obvious to the modern reader. A lot of references are not familiar," he said.

Kalish read "The Raven" while in high school but didn't remember it well, he said. But it isn't a poem of haunting and horror, he realized.

"The poem is really about loss and the fellow's finally accepting that his love is never going to be with him on Earth or in heaven," he said.

Kalish said he loves to read everything from classics to modern literature, and he loves the works of E. Annie Proulx. His "absolute favorite" genre is the short story.

He loves anything by Charles Dickens and would like to do a sock-puppet scene from "David Copperfield" or "Nicholas Nickleby," he said.

He isn't sure about his next performance at the Salon.

"Lauren wants to do something on Valentine's Day. While walking the dog today, I thought, 'How about karaoke?' Lip-syncing — maybe with marionettes."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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