Pablo Cano's Puppet Burlesque

View a slide show of Pablo Cano and his puppets.

Inside his Little Havana workshop, Pablo Cano makes a castle using cardboard cereal boxes. Behind him, a wall of shelves rises to the ceiling and is stacked with a dizzying collection of glass jars, cigar boxes, coffee cans, sundry containers, and Ziploc bags, each filled with a trove of treasures ranging from thrift-store finds to recycled urban trash and the wreckage of car crashes.

"I always keep my eyes open when I drive around," Cano says. "I particularly like plastic baroque things like ornate bed headboards that I find in the trash. I also love finding hubcaps on the street. Fender-benders always leave fragments of plastic chrome parts and red plastic tail lights I use in my work."

Cano's "work" — a new, intimate show staged at his home — is called the Red Velvet Theater. It's an experimental project that includes marionettes, choreographers, dancers, and musicians. He serves appetizers, champagne, coffee, and pastries while about a dozen guests become part of the lunacy. Beginning this Friday, he'll also pre­sent an exhibit at the Young at Art Museum in Davie and then head for the Pinecrest Gardens Gallery for a show opening May 10.

Pablo Cano with Boring Boris. View a slide show of Pablo Cano and his puppets.
Liam Crotty

Details

Kitch in Sax Blues: At Pablo Cano's Red Velvet Theater. Tickets cost $40 and include appetizers, champagne, coffee, and pastries. For upcoming dates, visit canoart.com or email pdcano@bellsouth.net.

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Cano is a night owl. Around 2 a.m., he can often be found in his studio with his three rescued stray dogs — Samson, Delilah, and Pancho — watching old slapstick comedies. He also enjoys catching Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, and classic horror movies as well as I Love Lucy, the Three Stooges, and Hitchcock episodes on TV while building his marionettes.

View a slide show of Pablo Cano and his puppets.

"I work from midnight to 6 a.m., then sleep until 10, get up, take another nap around 3 p.m., and start the cycle again. But I have been so busy lately that I have to take a whole day off to stay in bed once a month to catch up on rest."

For more than a decade, his lavish seasonal shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami have been a staple for South Florida families. His multidisciplinary opuses, such as Seven Wonders of the Modern World, Cavaletti's Dream, Viva Vaudeville, and City Beneath the Sea, typically transport both the young and old to otherworldly realms full of whimsy.

But last December, Cano crystallized his longtime dream of creating a salon-style experimental stage in his home. The first show, Kitch in Sax Blues, debuted last month. "This production is much more adult in nature than people are used to from me," he observes. "It is also less focused on me like the shows at MOCA and much more intimate in nature. I also plan on debuting my De Sade piece here at home sometime next year, probably Halloween."

Cano's home is located in a small residential enclave called Beacom Manor in a historic area of Little Havana. Built in 1903, the two-story white house looks like an opulently decorated cake with its richly ornamental wrought-iron entrance and fence. Two lions flank his front door, and an angel crowns the property's spinning weather vane. "I've adopted the angel as the mascot and symbol for my new project," he says.

Constellations of old Spanish guitars, chandeliers, plastic jugs, and ornate lamp shades dangle above the 51-year-old Cuban-American artist's head. Despite the sensation that one has stumbled onto the set of an episode of Hoarders, every item cluttering Cano's studio has been catalogued and painstakingly organized.

"I've got a box of stuff that looks like devils' penises," he mentions, reaching back for a labeled container from which he produces a plastic red chili pepper and a chewed plastic tube. "I do a lot of devils, angels, and she-devils."

Some of them will end up as part of his elaborate production based on the Marquis de Sade. "It's de Sade's castle I'm making, and each room will be differently themed," he says. "One will be Egyptian, another will be like a Spanish galleon.

"De Sade enjoyed having his adventures play out in different rooms. For the climax, I'm creating a room that reflects his fantasy of the final death, or great orgasm, in which I'll have copulating skeletons. I am also making mechanical automatons with which the audience can simulate sex acts."

Cano carefully replaces his collection of diabolical peckers. Nearby are plastic cases labeled "moons, planets," "lips, teeth," "mustaches," "doll's eyes," and "gold stars." They are filled with the detritus he has collected like a magpie. He has been compulsively drawn to glittering junk for the past 30 years. He uses the odds and ends to create conceptual marionettes that star in wildly imaginative productions in which he collaborates with choreographers, dancers, actors, playwrights, musicians, and even the audience.

Inside his parlor, Cano has arranged a sumptuous sofa and a dozen high-backed armchairs in a semicircle in front of the dining area he uses as his stage. The furniture is plushly upholstered in red velvet, giving the wood-floored area the feel of a Victorian-era room. It even has a working fireplace.

"I love the movie Midnight in Paris and wanted to create that sort of feeling here," he says.

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