The Puppet Company presents Beauty and the Beast, with script by Terry Snyder and adapted for the Puppet Co. by Eric Brooks and Ora Fruchter. This production is a winner of a Citation of Excellence from the American Center of the Union Internationale de la Marionette, and has been performed for children and families nationwide.
Director Allan Stevens designed new sets for this production, using a tiered stage draped in luxurious, regal purple fabric with gold trim. There are three french doors onstage; two open up to reveal painted sceneries (one a humble village lane and the other, the gardens of an enchanted palace), while a screen sits behind the center-stage door. This screen shows a variety of video and computer animation throughout the show, all by Christopher Piper, who is also the lighting designer.
The animations are creative, with the main animation being a mirror mask, designed and voiced by Eric Brooks. Now, the mirror mask is the one thing about this production that I would change; while his demeanor was cheery and playful, his face was carved from stone, creating an unnerving contrast (though, with the message of this tale being what it is, perhaps that is not a bad thing.)
The main reason to come to the Puppet Company, however, are the fantastic puppets. The puppeteers use large-scale marionettes for this production, and they are beautifully crafted. Designed by Terry Snyder and sculpted by him and ToBill Nelson, the details are both sharp and intricate. Tom Hammond and Marlene Arthur do a great job with the puppet’s costumes. For instance, though Beauty’s marionette is simply dressed, her face is lovely and bright. However, her greedy stepsisters, Pride and Vanity, have pinched, ugly features, despite their lavish dresses and headpieces.
As the kids and adults get comfortable, House Manager Toni Goldberg goes over the playhouse rules with the audience. I was impressed with Ms. Goldberg– while a lot of the house managers I see at children’s theaters seem scripted and strict, she was very friendly and patient with the children. Soon after, performers Elizabeth Dapo and Joshua Aaron Rosenblum take the stage and talk with the children about fairy tales and introduce Beauty and the Beast. They are interactive with the audience, asking them questions as they narrate to help move along the plot.
This is not the Disney Beauty and the Beast most are used to, and that is a good thing! You will not find any dancing candlesticks are talking teapots here. Set in the forests of old Russia, a young maiden must submit herself to a fearful beast (all horns and fur– a great work of puppetry) after her father mistakenly angers him. It seems the beast was once a vain and unkind prince, who had an unsightly curse cast upon him by a wise sorceress. The Beast’s new appearance has humbled him and made him kind, but he only has so much time to reverse the curse before the effect is permanent. With time, Beauty grows fond of her host, but her greedy stepsisters Pride and Vanity are jealous of her new palace home, and when Beauty returns home to care for her sick father, they see an opportunity. Together, they create a plot that will keep Beauty from returning to the Beast. Will Beauty be able to find a way back to the Beast before his time runs out?
I always enjoy an afternoon at The Puppet Company– the productions are top-notch and the staff is always warm and welcoming. Residing in the beautiful Glen Echo Park, a show and a stroll makes for a perfect family outing now that the weather is getting warmer. Embrace upcoming Spring with a showing of Beauty and the Beast!
Running Time: 40 minutes, without an intermission.
Beauty and the Beast plays through April 10, 2016 at The Puppet Company – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD, in Glen Echo Park. For ticket, call the box office at (301) 634-5380, or purchase them online.