Based on true accounts of children raised by animals and "rescued" by humans, The Wild Child combines the story of a scientist attempting to civilize a feral child with the journey of an artist into a stark desert where she encounters a wild boy living among gazelles.  Masks, shadow puppets, song, life-like bunraku puppets and original sound composition combine to create this rich and rewarding performance. The four-actor ensemble switches between characters, gazelles, and puppeteers before the audience's eyes, as the tight walls of the Doctor's closet dissolve into the spare beauty of the desert.
Created in collaboration with Signal Light Puppet Theatre.

 Director: Jonathan Walters

 Writer & Production Designer: Rachel Anthonisen

 Puppet & Object Designer: Bill Holznagel

 Mask Designer: Rachel Anthonisen

 Shadow Puppet Designer: Andrew Dannhorn

 Original Music & Sound: Peter Musselman

 Set Designer: Abe Goldman-Armstrong

 Stage Managers: Molly Gittelman (2004), Leigh Norman (2005)

 Performed By: Jef Awada, Sarah Dyrhaug, Faith Helma & Bill Holznagel (2004)
Faith Helma, Brian Keith, Erin Leddy & Amy McCarville (2005)

 Awards: 2004 Drammy Award, Outstanding Ensemble Performance (Jef Awada, Sarah Dyrhaug, Faith Helma & Bill Holznagel), 2004 Drammy Award, Outstanding Original Sound Compositino (Peter Musselman)

"In the early 19th century, a French scientist, Dr. Jean Itard, undertook the task of 'civilizing' a feral child named Victor, who had been found in Africa. Hand2Mouth's original production of The Wild Child takes dialogue verbatim from Itard's report to craft a dreamy, eerie and brutal drama. Interspersed with scenes from Itard's sterile lab are glimpses of a sun-washed desert. This alternate vision of the wild child's fate is based on artist Jean Claude Armen's claims to have found a child living among the gazelles of the Sahara in the 1970s. Armen was fascinated by the child for what he was, not what he might become. Peter Musselman's bewitching original music both distinguishes and links these separate worlds nicely. In this Drammy-winning work, director Jonathan Walters and concept originator Rachel Anthonisen demonstrate a capacity for both wild imagination and careful precision. The star of the show is Victor, an incredibly dynamic puppet created by Bill Holznagel. All four cast members have a hand in operating Victor. Each deserves praise for the ability to disappear behind it, to manipulate it as if they inhabited it. But Faith Helma gives the strongest performance, as her voice seems to dwell captive inside the child's mouthless, wooden head. Brian Keith plays the rather cliché snooty evil doctor. This is a puppet show, after all, and the villains can be easily distinguished from the heroes. Yet it is the creation and complexity of Victor's soul, brought to life by every member of this talented ensemble, that makes the project so unique."

- Johanna Droubay, Williamette Week, January 2005

"The Wild Child, Hand2Mouth Theater's new, fully developed version of last spring's Drammy Award-winning work-in-progress, is smoother than it was in 2004, and just as magical. Combining shadow and bunraku-style puppets with live performers, The Wild Child -- originally co-produced with Signal Light Puppet Theatre -- is a meditation on what separates civilization from wildness.

"In one of its two interwoven stories, an 18th-century doctor fails in his attempts to 'civilize' a feral 'wild child.' The other story follows the fantastic, dreamlike vision of a woman who transcends her bleak urban existence to find herself seeking a wild child in an enchanted desert. This latter tale has been revised for this production: Originally it focused on a man journeying across a mysterious desert.

"The two stories are more artfully blended than in last year's original production. Disruptive blackouts have been minimized, and while some tricky transitions and occasional slow spots remain, the piece flows much more smoothly than it did last year.

"Director Jonathan Walters ably synthesizes the play's diverse elements -- the four-person ensemble's skillful mask and movement work; Peter Musselman's mood-enhancing music and sound composition; the spare but imaginative lights, sets and costumes; Andrew Dannhorn and Bill Holznagel's clever puppets -- into an evocative theater piece. Now, as before, Holznagel's bunraku-style Wild Child is especially wonderful. Manipulated by two or three cast members at a time, this puppet, with its unkempt curly hair and round black eyes, is extraordinarily alive."

- Richard Wattenberg, The Oregonian, January 2005

"Haunting and somewhat disturbing. Impressive ensemble work notable for its graceful, exacting and altogether reverent puppet manipulation, especially that of Victor, a feral young boy. At times I felt I wanted the story to be clearer but, in retrospect, that probably would have diminished the magic and dismissed the reflection."

- Posted review,, January 2005

"Hand2Mouth Theatre and Signal Light Puppet Theatre combine bunraku puppets and live actors in this new piece that explores the line separating civilization from wildness. It's still rough, but The Wild Child is imaginatively conceived and abounds in truly magical moments.  

"The play cleverly interweaves two tales. One deals with a late-18 th -century scientist's futile efforts to socialize a feral 'wild child,' a boy who seems to have spent his early years nurtured by animals. The other tells of a grown man's journey into a gazelle-inhabited desert, where he hopes to sever his ties with civilization.

"The Wild Child bunraku puppet (built by Bill Holznagel) is the star of the show.   Manipulated by all four cast members, who take turns working him in twos and threes, this enchanting puppet has long unkempt curly-black hair, two dark round eyes, no mouth and a wonderfully flexible body. Equally bewitching is the table, which suddenly frolics like a gazelle.

"The production could be (and probably will become) tighter, especially if it eliminates some of the many blackouts for scene changes. Still, director Jonathan Walters and writer/puppet-director Rachel Anthonisen artfully combine puppets, humans, mask work, mimetic movement, Jacob Fenston's bold lighting design, and Peter Musselman's evocative sound composition to create engaging theater."

- Richard Wattenberg, The Oregonian, March 2004

"Hand2Mouth Theatre's latest piece captures the same vitality and originality of the company's adventurous Jerusalem from last year, though it's placed in a far more intimate setting. Indeed, the company proves that it can work both on a large and minute scale with equal finesse. The Wild Child is a Kaspar Hauser-like wild boy who has been raised by gazelles. After his discovery, he is taken into civilization's custody, where he is systematically broken of his ferity. The piece, written by Rachel Anthonisen and directed by Jonathan Walters, moves back and force [sic] between Africa and Europe, but not always successfully. If there is a criticism of this imaginative piece, it's that the two realms of the Wild Boy's life are not always well bridged. Plus, the constant scrambling of the actors as they retreat from the stage to don costumes and gazelle masks often leaves long, dead moments in space.  It might be worth considering adding two additional actors to the mix to keep the narrative flowing. But the actors who are here--Jef Awada, Sarah Dyrhaug, Faith Helma and Bill Holznagel--are exceptional physical performers and puppeteers. The Wild Boy is portrayed by a wooden puppet built by Holznagel, and the lad's four manipulators (a la Bunraku-style), especially Helma, breathe nothing less than spirit into him.  This is first-rate puppetry in a piece that, while still lacking cohesion, is very exciting and thought-provoking."

- Steffen Silvis, Willamette Week, March 2004

The Wild Child is currently unavailable for touring.

Performance Dates        

  • March 2004
  • January 2005