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.
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.
The Puppet Co.
7300 MacArthur Blvd. Glen Echo
40 minutes without intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
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