It seems like a perfect premise for The Puppet Co — a master toymaker is kidnapped but escapes in time to lead a parade of beautiful new toys.  Christopher Piper does double duty portraying the toymaker and, along with fellow master puppeteer Tony Strowd, manipulates a host of characters. 

As always, Piper charms and entertains throughout the show and he works valiantly with what he’s got, but the pace of the story bogs down in spots that even he can’t dig his way out.  The opening musical number by the snarling and sneering Mr. Barnaby has such a clippety cloppity pace that the audience is left wondering who the character is and why is he pumping the crowd for applause and accolades after his number.  Often repetition is a fun way to reinforce key concepts and themes but not when it’s done in a humorless, mean-spirited and non-creative manner—then it just becomes boring, even in family theater, as when the snarled up “crooked man” admonishes his cat about sneaking up on him – for the umpteenth time.

Christopher Piper with Mr. Barnaby (Photo courtesy of The Puppet Co)

Christopher Piper with Mr. Barnaby (Photo courtesy of The Puppet Co)

For the basic story, although bad ol’ Mr. Barnaby succeeds in kidnapping the toy maker, his scheme is thwarted by the always observant and vigilant Tom the Piper’s Son (a cute take on Christopher’s name). While full of promise and potential, the script seems contrived and so mushed together that the resolution zooms in from nowhere.  It seems that all Barnaby needed was to be tickled unmercifully until, between his fits of laughter, he suddenly appreciates the joy of play, friendship and kindness, and has a change in heart.  That’s a stretch even for the bitty ones.

Somewhat Recommended
The Puppet Co.
7300 MacArthur Blvd. Glen Echo
40 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $10
Fridays thru Sundays
Still, the actual puppets are as endearing as ever, especially when Tom enters riding a train loaded with new toys.  The handiwork is exceptional and the puppet movements are nicely rendered.  Bo Peep has a side role and she’s accompanied by all of her adorable sheep– once she gets help finding them.  There’s even a magical moment involving a colorful fluttering Moth Queen who has such powers over time and space that characters mysteriously appear where they need to be in a blink.  The major exception in the puppet presentation was with Tom, whose head sometimes seemed perpetually twisted to one side, making it difficult to understand who he was addressing when facing the other direction.

The handiwork of director Allan Stevens can be seen in design of the authentic brown cobbler outfit for the Master Toymaker, complete with wide waist band and puffy sleeved white shirt, created by MayField Piper. Stevens also designed the multi-use set that converts from cozy cottage to scary forest with a flick of background trees.

Usually, there’s something for everyone at Puppet Co, but in this case, mainly the die-hard puppet enthusiasts will get a kick out of this one.  Everyone else may as well wait to see what happens with the rest of what looks like a terrific season with a Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs combo, Jack and the Beanstalk, and ending with Cinderella.  What’s not to love?


Toyland . A Take on Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland,”   arranged by Eric Brooks . Produced by The Puppet Co . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson


Other reviews

April Forrer . MDTheatreGuide
Julia L. Exline . DCMetroTheaterArts


Debbie Minter Jackson About Debbie Minter Jackson

Debbie Minter Jackson is a writer and has performed in musical theater for decades. Originally from Chicago, she has hit stages throughout the Midwest and the Washington, D.C. area including the Kennedy Center in productions with the legendary Mike Malone. Her scripts have been commissioned and produced by the old Source Theater and festivals in New York. She is a member of the play reading and discussion group Footlights and the Black Women Playwrights’ Group. By day she happily works in a federal public health agency as a Senior Program Analyst and is in blissful partnership with her Bill.



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