Paperhand Puppet Intervention once again populates UNC’s Forest Theatre for a month-long run of their newest original work, Invisible Earth, a short history of the world beginning with the first signs of life and culminating in the Age of Man. The work, written and directed by Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman, tries to inform and inspire today’s population to care for and conserve the Earth we have come to know, for the slow decay of our planet has already begun.

In order to do this, Zimmerman and company bring dozens of huge puppets to the amphitheatre, creating a myriad of sculptures of amoebae, small dual-cell creatures, and a litany of greater and greater animals through the evolution of the planet to the time of mankind. We are introduced to Charles Darwin, via a huge head and black vested suit, who serves as a sort of narrator through the procession.

During the show, and nonstop from the beginning, music underlies the work in a complete soundtrack written and performed by Ari Picker and the Paperhand Band, a five-piece multi-instrumental band sporting keyboards, percussion, strings, guitar, vocals, and trumpet. This talented quintet supports every stage of the play, bringing swelling crescendos or quiet passages to bear on the march of time that Invisible Earth travels. Several noteworthy structures are shown, from the first creatures to walk the earth to a spectacular parade of jellyfish. Each portion of the show is punctuated with huge white flowing flags, which descend from the top of the house and onto the stage at the start of the show.

In order to facilitate this procession, PPI employs twenty black-covered puppeteers, including Burger and Zimmerman themselves. These puppeteers move and merge the puppets with great skill.

Invisible Earth culminates in a beautiful tale of modern times as a young woman tells of her efforts to protect and care for the planet. But before the tale begins, there is a lovely procession of lanterns of many shapes, coming down from the top of the house. Once the lanterns are down front, they merge together in the pit of the stage and ignite, forming head, arms, body, and legs of Man, a union that is two stories tall and lit from within. This stunning endeavor is the highlight of the show, dancing onstage and drawing oohs and aahs from the audience.

For this occasion, PPI has created puppets ranging from flat two-cell creatures to beautifully styled monkeys, an array of birds and mammals, a large depiction of a wooly mammoth, and too many other art forms to be mentioned. The detail of these many puppets is superb, and the fact that many of them play instruments is a delight. A quintet of accordion-playing goats is met with a group of pigs with ukuleles, all of which join with the band and dance onstage. These various surprises are truly delightful, and elicit multiple ovations from the crowd.

Donovan Zimmerman and his talented troupe of puppeteers bring an entire show of puppets to exceptional life, creating a procession of scenes that excite, delight, and inspire a full house of devotees of the genre. PPI fills the Forest Theatre with new life, and brings in a multitude of men, women, and children, all of whom delight in the various and creative forms of puppetry that have been crafted for this show. This march through time is not to be missed, as it will inspire and intrigue you. Watching as these many creations dance before your eyes brings a sense of peace and understanding, evoked by the multitude of creatures, beasts, and men that depict the life of our Invisible Earth.

Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s Invisible Earth continues through September 8 at Forest Theatre in Chapel Hill and then from September 13-15 at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. Guests are invited to bring a picnic supper to any performance. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.