Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa

A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa
presented by Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater
adapted from the Dickens by Vit Horejs

Vit Horejs began to study puppetry as a child in Prague. He toured the world as a puppeteer before he found 69 Czech marionettes, some of them two centuries old, in the Jan Hus Church in Manhattan. They formed part of his inspiration to establish the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater in 1990. He's written or adapted more than 20 plays for his company, and the productions use some of those old puppets.

The marionette theater's latest offering is A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, recently presented by LaMaMa. More suited for adults than children, it uses the frame of Dickens' story as a vehicle for Horejs' unique art, and Horejs is the sole, very busy puppeteer. It begins with a lovely moment when Horejs awakes on stage. There are songs between scenes sung very nicely by two actresses next to the tiny stage (one of them purporting to be a boy).

As always with this company, the many marionettes (by Milos Kasal and "unknown folk artists") exhibit a great deal of whimsy. The attention to detail in them and their costumes is marvelous. Most are less than a foot high. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a humanoid water sprite. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a larger skeleton puppet, and The Ghost of Christmas Future is a very large devil, about four times the size of Scrooge. The show's best moment has this fiery devil scooping up the tiny Scrooge from his bed. The latter two marionettes are part of the cache Horejs discovered here in New York.

The characteristic tone of Horejs dialogue is an off-handed flippancy, almost always humorous. It sounds like improvisation even when it's not. From time to time, Horejs complements Dickens with a modern tone. "What's wrong with juggling a few mortgages here and there?" Scrooge asks.

A Christmas Carol lacks the charm of some of the company's other productions (such as Don Juan from earlier this year) and it wouldn't serve as a child's introduction to the Dickens story. But we're looking forward to seeing what inventive piece Horejs comes up with next year,

Steve Capra
December 2014