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by Joe Lugara


There’s paradox in a good marionette show: first-rate puppeteers make the strings psychologically invisible, so you can see them . . . and yet you can’t. If it’s a quality performance, you feel like you’re watching little actors, not wood and paint. For ages 3 and up, Jack and the Beanstalk, as presented by the Brooklyn-based Puppetworks, is a case in point. This is a production by a highly skilled troupe whose work dates back more than 35 years, gracing no less a holiday setting than Macy’s (which built a special puppet theater for them in 1976); and even reaching into the world of Haydn and Debussy, where its hand-carved marionettes have enlivened performances by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Little Orchestra Society, and other companies. The story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” has gone through about as many parodies as Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Practically everyone — from Abbott and Costello to “Gilligan’s Island” to Bugs Bunny — has had a go at it. At the children’s level, the story has seen its most significant changes in the character of Jack; he’s sometimes depicted as a clever boy, but more often than not he comes off as silly or even indolent. Puppetworks takes the approach that Jack, although a bit of a dreamer, is a brave fellow. He’s no cornflower-chewin’, shamblin’ hayseed; he genuinely loves the family cow, Petunia, and when he ascends the beanstalk to take back the family’s wealth from the giant, he’s determined to do it for the family, not to line the pockets of his Tudor costume. Speaking of Tudor, Puppetworks’ artistic director, Nicolas Coppola, has adapted the company’s production according to the traditional English version of the story. (Which is exactly why the “Jack” marionette fails to resemble either Bob Denver or Lou Costello). The detailing is wonderful, from the plush beefiness of Petunia and her girly eyelashes right down to Jack’s striped leotards. (To emphasize Jack’s challenge, the producers have wisely decided to use a live actor as the giant, Blunderbore). Coppola cleverly expresses the magic of a rapidly sprouting beanstalk through the use of a black-light scene featuring singing and dancing beans, with the whole tale interwoven with an original score by Bruce Haack, based on old English folk melodies.

Info: Where: Puppetworks-Park Slope, 338 Sixth Avenue (at 4th Street), Brooklyn When: Through August 22. Performances are every Saturday and Sunday (through April 4), 12:30pm and 2:30pm; thereafter, through August 22, every first and third Saturday and Sunday, 12:30pm and 2:30pm. How much: Adults, $7; children, $6; groups of 20 or more, $4.50 each Note: Little Red Riding Hood is playing in repertory with Jack and the Beanstalk. The show, adapted for hand puppets by Michael Thomas, will be presented on the 2nd and 4th weekend of each month, through August 29. For more info: Reservations are suggested; to reserve, call (718) 965-3391 or go to www.puppetworks.org


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