‘Rapunzel’ at The Puppet Co. by Julia L. Exline

The Puppet Company Playhouse presents Rapunzel, a re-imagining of the classic fairy tale through the use of puppetry. Directed by Allan Stevens and written by Duane T. Bowers, this adaptation more closely favors the Brother’s Grimm version of the tale, bringing a fresh perspective of the story to a generation that is growing up in a world surrounded by Disney’s powerful influence.

A set designed by Allan Stevens resembles that of a brightly filled-in coloring book, with a purple stage framed by rapunzels—that is, the type of radish that Rapunzel is named for. Inside the frame, a sweet cottage made up of cobblestones and a thatched straw roof sits next to a high stone wall, on which the other side lays a fruitful garden full of rapunzel. In the distance, green hills and fields are seen, as well as the dark shape of an ominous tower. The set transforms as the plot grows, adding backdrops such as thick, prickly briar patches, toadstools, and a green-tinted tower. It is an overall handsome set, and with charming music from Jacques Ibert and lighting effects that go from cheerful to threatening when the mood allows, the all-around atmosphere is perfect.

Eric Brooks, the solo performer for the show, amiably chats with the children in the audience before the show begins. Asking, “Do you know what Rapunzel is?” he is flooded with excited answers such as, “she’s a princess!” or “she’s a pretty girl with hair that glows when she sings!” After chuckling and saying that yes, she is a princess and yes, her hair does glow in one version of the story, Rapunzel is also….a type of radish, and is used in this story. The bemused children settle in for a show that portrays one of their favorite characters in a different light, as Brooks uses hand puppets (beautifully crafted by Puppetmaster Allan Stevens) to tell a story about an elderly couple who are tricked by a witch into giving her their only child, who is then hidden away in a tower until she is noticed by a wandering prince. Brooks uses a wide range of voices for his characters, each one unique, and speaks in limericks and rhymes, which adds to the fun. In an unexpected twist, the humorous, clever character of Witch Wartsmith proved to be the crowd favorite—yes, the witch was more adored than the princess. It is something that you need to see to believe.

Jonathan and his wife are envious of the rapunzel growing in Witch Wartsmith's garden. Photo by Christopher Piper.

The children were absolutely enthralled. They shouted advice to the puppets, who, in turn, paused to think over their suggestions. The children loved being included in the show, and excitedly bickered back and forth with the witch. After the show, shrieks of “can we see it again?!” sounded through the theatre, and a small group of children immediately found a spot in the corner of the studio to start re-enacting the play themselves. Eric Brooks brought out the witch puppet to pose in pictures with the children, and to answer any questions they may have.

Many children’s theatres put on classic, beloved productions such as this one, but The Puppet Company makes Rapunzel their own by using a different, lesser-known version and introducing children to the world of puppetry. The Playhouse successfully pulled off a popular production while also being unique, which makes for an enjoyable and memorable experience for all. For a fun afternoon of affordable entertainment with your family, I highly recommend The Puppet Company’s production of Rapunzel!

Running Time is 45 minutes without an intermission.

Featured Picture: Witch Wartsmith does all she can to keep the Prince and Rapunzel apart. Photo by Christopher Piper.

Rapunzel plays through April 7, 2012, at The Puppet Company Playhouse in Glen Echo Park—7300 MacArhur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. Purchase tickets by calling (301) 634-5380, or order them online.


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