Camille Saint Sans wrote a great suite for small ensemble called “Carnival of the Animals” that has delighted children, and amused adults who understand the jokes, for over a century. Why not turn it into a theater piece for children?
That is exactly what is happening at the Puppet Co down at Glen Echo, with guest puppeteer Bob Brown and members of the Puppet Co. It begins with a life sized puppet of a young boy, who performs some halfhearted piano exercises, and then goes to bed listening to the radio. The radio is playing the Saint Sans, and the play unfolds as a dream where creatures real and imaginary cavort.
The format allows the Puppet Co to mount its first bilingual show. Christian Beltran, who often works behind the scenes at the Puppet Co, gets to take center stage as the narrator. He speaks much of the script in English and then in Spanish, helping kids learn key words like numbers and “Good Morning” in both languages. His narration sets up the next scene as the puppeteers prepare.
The story also allows Puppet Co to perform some different styles of puppetry. Much of this is banraku style, where Bob Brown and Christopher Piper are dressed in black to blend into the background as they manipulate some of the larger puppets such as our piano playing young boy and later a large kangaroo who takes over the stage.
Other puppets are done with florescent lighting. The stage goes dark so you do not see the puppeteers but the glowing fish start swimming across the platform. Later a much larger fish pops up on the scene for a chase sequence. The episode with the fossils begins with glowing skeletal pieces dancing and then slowing combining to form a complete dinosaur.
One should pay close attention to the props on that stage, because nearly everything turns into something else during the course of this dream. A clock brings in a cuckoo that gets the attention of the pet cat. A drawing of a fish detaches itself and becomes a swimming fish. Even our young child’s bed gets into the act as it transforms into a most unexpected creature.
The script spends a lot of time about the music, and perhaps a little more whimsy would be in order to match the fanciful events occurring on the stage. Some of this may go over some children’s heads, but it does explain the numerous jokes in the Saint Sans piece – such as taking Offenbach’s riotous can-can dance and slowing it down to a crawl to illustrate the turtle. With that in mind, the turtle sequence has the puppet creature leaving its shell for a humorous dance.
Even the most famous episode in the suite, the Swan, is a joking takeoff of the numerous dance interpretations of this piece – a less than agile swan performing on ice skates. The entire play is colorful and imaginative and clocks in at just under 40 minutes.
Things are very busy down at the Puppet Co right now. Their Tiny Tots program for their youngest audience members starts again on September 22 while their more adult oriented 7th Annual Puppetry Slam will be Saturday September 29. As part of that effort, there is a silent auction currently underway at http://www.32auctions.com/
organizations/4190/auctions/ with items ranging from Kennedy Center posters to tickets to several downtown theaters. 4639
“Carnival of the Animals” continues at the Puppet Co. at Glen Echo through October 7. For more information, call (301) 634-5380 or go to their website athttp://www.thepuppetco.org/
By David Cannon
Mocovox Entertainment Critic