The timeless tale of appreciating kindness and inner beauty comes to life with beautifully stylized marionettes at the Puppet Co. In the loving hands of real-life husband and wife Christopher and MayField Piper, the story has even more resonance as they share the tale of looking beneath the surface to find true love.
With the puppeteers in villager attire (costumes by MayField) telling the story while manipulating the puppets, everyone is exposed as part of the act in plain sight adding a sense of inclusivity and wholesomeness to the experience. Young people and families get to experience the wonder of the familiar story as it unfolds as if for the first time.
In fact, Christopher opens the show asking—What are the four words that often start a fairy tale? Seemingly befuddled by the strange concoctions that he tosses out as possibilities, he finally listens to the blaring responses from the youngsters and starts with—Once Upon a Time…
The puppet, Beauty, truly lives up to her name, enchanting and wide eyed with a sweet disposition as she cares for her father and sisters, Pride and Vanity. And yes, Christopher has a great time with the antics and selfish responses of the sisters while MayField handles Beauty with humility and grace.
Christopher’s Beast is also a work of art, covered in brown fur, more like a ferocious king of the jungle than menacing or scary, while the father is stately with a caring expression. And where would the story be without a handsome prince bringing it all together at the end? He too, is a masterful works of art by puppet designer Terry Snyder who designed the puppets, puppet costumes and set. He and Bill Nelson sculpted the puppets, and he made the puppet costumes with Tom Hammond and Marlene Arthur.
The Pipers bring the characters to life with caring movements befitting each one, also in step with the music. At one point, to move the various characters, the Piper criss-cross under extended arms for a sweetly choreographed quartet.
The creative handiwork of Eric Brooks is still present although Brooks has moved on. With Ora Fruchter, he helped to adapt Terry Snyder’s script. Also his voice and silver Vadar-like mask appear in the large shimmery screen that functions as a magic mirror. The high-tech feature adds an air of excitement and wonder as images magically appear to help tell the story, show a galloping horse or status of a significant character. The designers have effectively limited use of the devise to small segments so as not to detract from the action on stage. The volume needs to be ratcheted up to match the level of the players, otherwise, it’s a useful prop to illustrate the action and propel the storyline.
Beauty and the Beast
Closes November 16, 2012
The Puppet Co.
7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812
45 minutes with no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
More in keeping with the original tale, the father has promised the Beast to bring back his beautiful daughter, in exchange for his life. She willingly submits to the promise and makes herself at home at the castle dealing patiently to the Beast’s daily entreaties for her hand in marriage. Only when she returns briefly to her family to tend to her ailing father, nearly dying from grief, does she realize that she actually loves the Beast, and no amount of trickery from the selfish sisters will keep true love from fulfilling its course.
The Puppet Co adds its own stylized twists in this simplified rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Unlike the musical, there are no dancing or singing chandeliers, tea pots, chest of drawers or arrogant suitors. Instead the puppets allow the story to unfold in all of its heartfelt sincerity an arms-length away, right before our eyes. It’s as close as you can get to snuggling up on a warm, loving lap and listening to a tale that begins with those four sweet words–and loving every bit of it.
Beauty and the Beast. Produced by The Puppet Co. Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Recommended for Kindergarten thru Grades 6.