The Phantom Limb’s puppets hunt a wolf in the fold

The content and tone of Haverty Marionettes’ The Phantom Limb spans the spectrum from “disturbing” to “very, very disturbing.” Writer/director Michael Haverty explores the case of Mr. Albert Fish, an American serial killer, child molester and alleged cannibal known by such nicknames as “The Brooklyn Werewolf.”

If the premise alone sounds unnerving, Haverty Marionettes’ avant-garde approach makes The Phantom Limb even more challenging and uncomfortable. Much of the production contains no dialogue and echoes silent movie-era entertainments, so frequently we can only piece together events by implication. Potential audiences should read the historical notes posted outside 7 Stages Back Stage Theatre, or skim the Wikipedia entry, before venturing in.

Patrick McColery plays Fish as tormented but deceptively mild-mannered, while Reay Schloss and Amy Strickland serve as puppeteers and mostly non-speaking, black-garbed supporting performers. When Fish borrows a life-sized little-girl puppet from her mother and makes her dance, The Phantom Limb offers a skin-crawling image of innocence abused. McColery conveys Fish’s vain attempts to keep his unbalanced psyche under control. At one point he reads a 1934, possibly written by Fish himself, describing the man’s unspeakable actions. Later, in a fit of paranoia, he seeks shelter in Bloomingdale’s department store and burst’s into a frenzied, incongruous rendition of “You’ve Gotta Have Heart.”