The Puppet Masters’ Demons

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Published January 5, 2010

PHOTO BY RICHARD TERMINE

 

Erik Sanko first became enamored of marionettes at the age of five. “When I was a little boy my mom would take us to a theater in the West Village that was run by a guy named Bil Baird who did the marionette sequence in The Sound of Music,” says Sanko, who subsequently made his own puppets. For nearly three decades this childhood passion laid dormant. Sanko turned himself into a self-described “go-to guy for avant-garde bass playing,” working with Yoko Ono, John Cale, and his own Grammy-nominated band Skeleton Key. “Then for some reason in my early 30s I started making puppets again for no particular reason, other than they scratched some itch I couldn’t reach in any other way, and I took them on tour,” he says. “That’s how it began.”

Shortly after his future wife, visual artist Jessica Grindstaff, made a college documentary about the doll-making musician in 2002, the two combined their talents as a theater duo, who’ve since drawn raves for their work on the Here Art Center’s 2006 production of “The Fortune Teller” and at BAM’s 25th Anniversary Next Wave Festival, for which the couple designed a 15-foot-tall marionette with a stage inside its chest. Now the couple is breathing new life into Ping Chong’s “The Devil You Know” for the Public Theatre’s Under The Radar Festival. Three years in the making this Faustian drama (based on Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster”) opens tomorrow with a uniquely fabricated cast of characters.


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“The Devil You Know” plays through January 24. La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre is located at 74 East 4 Street, New York.