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Review: New Orleans Giant Puppet Festival

Dalt Wonk on the festival's second week of shows

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  Harry Mayronne Jr. presented his High-Strung Puppet Cabaret. The multitalented Mayronne is a musician, composer and puppeteer, and he makes his puppets. Many locals are familiar with his first puppet, Miss Viola, a hilarious Creole who knows how to shake it with the best of them. Among his new puppets is German singer Nina Hagen with whom he did a tune from The Threepenny Opera. Then puppet Boris Vian, a French author, jazz trumpeter and singer/songwriter, sang a lovely French tune, cautioning "Monsieur le President" to stay out of wars. Mayronne also created a likeness of Becky Allen, and Allen herself joined him for some comic exchanges and the duet "Sisters." Finally, a puppet Mayronne joined his full-sized doppelganger.

  All this was lighthearted, well-paced and thoroughly enjoyable. It was accompanied by recorded music from a band featuring Mayronne, Tim Paco, Michael Skinkus, Matt Rhody and Rick Nelson.

  The audience moved to a small puppet theater to one side of the Opera House where Toybox Theatre and Cripps Puppets performed Billy the Liar and the Werewolves on the Moon (pictured). The puppeteers dressed as jesters and worked the rod puppets from above. The complicated story involved Americans landing on the moon, various wolf motifs and a George Washington puppet. The protagonists, Billy and Suzy, were school kids who ended up in a creepy abandoned factory that the bad guys were pretending was an exclusive boarding school in the hope of acquiring Billy's rocket ship.

  Billy the Liar was interrupted, so we could go back to the main stage, where Calliope Puppets presented When Night Dreams. This consisted of two myths, one from Iceland and one from the Navajo Nation. The myths were presented with simple but elegant projections. The visuals were inventive and stunning and they enriched the childlike tales.

  Mudlark Puppeteers rounded out the evening with The Monkey King, an elaborate ancient Chinese myth. Here again, we witnessed a world so full of conflicts and transformations that one lost track of who was whom. But the Mudlark troupe performed with great imagination and vitality.

  The festival was a fascinating collection of puppetry. It showed a wide range of styles and how simple means can produce engrossing effects. As an evening, however, it was too long. Although the kids sitting in front seemed quite amused by Billy the Liar and company, I was underwhelmed by the intricate buffoonery. — DALT WONK

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