‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ at The Puppet Co.

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The Puppet Co. presents The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a classic children’s tale brought to life with impressive marionettes, written by Len, Pat and Christopher Piper and directed by Allan Stevens.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff. The Puppet Co. Playhouse.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Photo courtesy of The Puppet Co. Playhouse.

Performer Christopher Piper is interactive with the kids from the second he steps onstage. Asking for a louder “good morning” from the children, he is not satisfied until the whole foundation seems to shake with thunderous greetings. He takes some time to tell the kids about different kinds of puppets, and then, with helpful hints shouted from the audience, proceeds to make a hand puppet that he names “Mabel,” and playfully argues with her. He then brings out a rod puppet (the evil stepmother from Cinderella) and a circus bear marionette, and shows how they are used. This is a great way to introduce children to the world of puppetry! After asking the audience questions about the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff, it is time for the actual play.

Leveled steps make up a snowy mountaintop that the three goats traipse across, hungrily scrounging for food, in a set cleverly designed by Piper. He stands on a raised platform and rotates the set around him to reveal a wooden bridge that leads to grass-covered hills. Music helps set the temperament of the plot, whether brisk and jaunty or foreboding, and Piper is mic’d, so he is easily heard above both the accompanying music and the screams of excited children. Lighting is also used to develop the mood, lending a green hue during the troll’s scenes that flashes ominously when he yells at the goats (or more often, when his wife is yelling at him).

While starving on their bleak mountaintop, the youngest brother finds it hard to resist the temptation of the plentiful hills that lay beyond the bridge, and sets out to cross it despite his older brother’s warnings about an evil troll that lives beneath it. His brothers are not far behind as the youngest billy-goat takes his first steps across the bridge. True to form, the troll appears, brandishing a club and telling the small goat that he will make for a good barbeque. Are these three brothers clever enough to trick a hungry, ill-tempered troll?

Piper uses a range of voices, so that each character has a distinct personality. From the deep monotone of the eldest brother, the pipsqueak whine of the youngest, and the rough yell of the troll, every character is unique. The puppets in question are also of his own making, along with Mayfield Piper, and are indeed pieces of artwork themselves (wait until you see how this troll can move!). The best part is the fact that you need to cross an actual bridge before you get to the parking lot, and watching the children clamor around looking for a troll underneath. It was a sweet moment that I won’t soon forget.

Running Time: 40 minutes, with no intermission.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff plays through November 21, 2014 at The Puppet Co., in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call (301) 634-5380, or order them online.

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