Rarely do we see a performance particularly fixated on miniatures, toys and marionettes, but Antonio Vega’s latest brainchild/creation breaks that uncommon chain. The Duchamp Syndrome by Por Piedad Teatro is an intriguing feat that pushes theatrical conventions at every turn, drifting between the real and surreal through a cast of colourful characters and unusual routines.


The play follows Juan (Antonio Vega), an aspiring stand-up comedian who is suffering from the eponymous “Duchamp syndrome” following an encounter with the Bicycle Wheel. His loneliness and obsession with the minute eventually results in the creation of his own friends from inanimate objects, as he struggles to find his place in the overwhelming city of New York.


Much of the play is straightforward in the way it conveys its themes. In one particular scene, the idea of growing smaller in a strange and large world is taken literally, as Juan introduces smaller and smaller versions of himself until the tiny puppet is barely more than a centimeter long. He is subsequently complemented onstage by a physical manifestation of his shadow (Miguel Perez), Tony, a crude but talented cockroach that mentors Juan in his routines, and an iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaner. Together they depict the failing American dream, simultaneously commenting on the genre of comedy and unabashedly breaking the fourth wall to add a prevailing sense of alienation to the mix.


A lot happens in the short span of the play’s runtime, but interspersed within the surreal comedic interactions between Juan and Tony are patches of reality, brought forth through the solemn exchange of tapes between Juan and his mother, that detail their rocky relationship further strained by distance. The multitude of characters (an old man with a cat in his hat, a rat who desperately wants to be part of the play) can appear as messy to some who fail to stay engaged, although for the most part the pacing and humour keeps the play on track. The use of multimedia to screen the puppetry in its most minuscule state was limited and occasionally distracting, as was the use of subtitles that did not always correspond to speech. Much of the puppetry work was also executed too downstage, such that those seated in the circle seats were unable to see.


The lighting and sound are commendable in their additions to the play’s overall feel and progress, but the truly outstanding technical aspect was its set: Shelves line upstage, filled with knick-knacks and other intricate set pieces, while a table is cluttered with tiny antiques and boxes lay here and there in clumps of disarray.


The Duchamp Syndrome certainly embodies art and loss, but also provides audiences with much more.