A Christmas Carol
I have always been a fan of puppet work. In my earliest years, I was, like most of my generation, an ardent fan of Sesame Street. I progressed under the watchful eye of my favorite puppets: Fred Roger’s King Friday and Prince Tuesday, Sherri Lewis’s Lamb Chop, Jim Henson’s Kermit and Fozzie Bear, Frank Oz’s Yoda, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Gary Johnston. And as the recipient of a B.A. in English, I’ve most recently received assurance my life will be okay from Avenue Q’s ‘Princeton.’
So my level of excitement upon seeing my first Open Hand Theater Show, “A Christmas Carol,” should come as no surprise.
The show, brought to the Open Hand Theater by The Puppet People, a two-person traveling troupe, took place December 3 in front of a sold-out audience.
Most of the children sat cross-legged in the front of the auditorium, although a few sat on the laps of parents or grandparents, who had equally excellent views from folding chairs on risers. The show lasted an hour and kept the rapt attention of its young audience. Only a few children moved from their seats through the show, and the majority of the movement was during the scary parts of the show, such as when the ‘Ghost of Christmas Future’ first appeared.
The ghosts were not marionette puppets like the human characters in the story, but one of the puppeteers in costume. The Puppet People retained the skeletal hands of ‘Christmas Future’ while adding a sparkling globe as the face. By retaining the hands, The Puppet People avoided the stereotype that many shows targeting children remove frightening or unpleasant storylines to the point of belittling their audience. Most of the kids were pleased with the face, rather than frightened by the hands, and those who were scared recovered quickly, without any emotional trauma, leaving me to believe that The Puppet People had appropriately gauged their audience’
s fright threshold.
The troupe’s incredible puppeteering skills brought the puppet world to life. Tiny Tim walked backwards then skipped forward, each of his steps moving like a real boy’s legs. Bob Cratchit fainted, then sat back up slowly with the motions of a human.
The stage held an enclosed area for the puppets, while the puppeteers remained shadowy, but visible, above. This gave additional emotion to the puppets, as the puppeteers spoke along with recorded words and provided facial expressions to their frozen-faced marionettes. The timing of every movement of the marionettes perfectly matched the sounds, even the smallest of motions such as footsteps.
Although “A Christmas Carol” only included three sets, the troupe made excellent use of what they had. Many of Scrooge’s memories appeared as shadows of puppets behind opaque windows, so only Scrooge’s bedroom, office, and a streetscape were needed for the other scenes. The beautifully painted sets included small details like working lights on the candles, giving the rooms depth.
Details on the marionettes brought humor to the story: Scrooge wore bunny slippers with his pajamas. Marley’s chain-covered ghost fell into pieces, then reassembled itself, emitting howls of laughter from the audience.
While the show was certainly worthwhile for most children, “A Christmas Carol” is grim at times. The boy sitting to my left told his grandmother he was frightened when she asked him if he liked it. The majority of the audience, however, left smiling after this heartwarming performance.
Up next, as part of Open Hand Theater’s ‘A World of Puppets’ series:
Grandfather Frost’s Stories of Russia
Grandfather Frost, a most mischievous cat, and a lost girl are the background for this wonderful winter adventure into the world of Russian folk tales. One of Open Hand Theater’s touring performances, Grandfather Frost’s Stories of Russia features international artist-in-residence, Vladimir Vasyagin, with musician Leslie Archer. This duet of music and puppetry brings to life a whole storybook of characters, adventures and culture.
Saturday, December 10, 11 a.m.