Puppeteer and vocal artist Suzanne Pemsler reviewed Dream Tale Puppet’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” performance at the Arlington Center for the Arts in the January 2014 issue of The Control Stick – Newsletter of the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry. Let me make this text available here.
A Masterful Jack and the Beanstalk
Performed by Dream Tale Puppets, featuring Jacek Zuzanski and Margaret Moody
Review by Suzanne Pemsler
Though I put on the mantle of childhood as I entered the Arlington Center for the Arts, I did not succumb to the inviting cushions set out on the floor in front of the stage. The young children in the audience tested them out, avidly hopping from one floor-pillow to another to get closer — and closer still — to the fascinating set before them. “Is it a beanstalk?” “Is it a boat with sails?” The stage setting was non-representational and held fascination for the audience. What was to happen within it?
At first, the story unfolded with Margaret as Storyteller and Jacek manipulating charming small puppets, including all the characters necessary to outline the opening plot — Jack, Jack’s Mother, a Cow named “Milky White,” the Bean seller and the many assorted characters attendant to the exciting, fast moving opener when young Jack goes on a grown-up mission to sell his beloved cow and returns with the beans to an outraged mother.
Having deftly hung a cloth behind the stage, Jacek had defined the area, yet was able to use the stage, not only in manipulating his well- crafted and intriguing puppets but also, later, when he appeared before the stage at his full height miming the nasty, irreverent, scary Giant.
It was at that moment, when Jacek “became” the Giant, that a few children leapt into their parent’s laps — though not for a second did they look away from Jacek. The little ones were riveted to the action but simply couldn’t handle it outside of their parents’ arms. The children remained fascinated participants and wanted more and more of the melodrama once they felt secure. Later, a few made their way back to the pillows and stayed through to the finale, when the beanstalk was chopped down and all was well with Jack and his mother.
The small puppets were created by Jacek – the cow, the boy, the mother, the “bean man,” as well as the vital characters from the Giant’s lair later on in the play. They read well and pushed the intricate story forward.
Margaret’s role was far greater than that of an amiable storyteller sitting on a stool at far stage right. She created the perfect atmosphere replete with the repetition of “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead. I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” The children joined in loudly each time and with verve, even the ones clinging to their parents. Margaret offered intriguing, fun vocal sound effects – including some magnificent burps when the Giant ate too much, too fast! Some of the children giggled through their fear. So many effective interjections brought the story alive. With careful vocal modulation, she prepared the children for each of the many segments of the story. She infused the story with her voice portraying both joy and terror. Even I became nervous that Jack wouldn’t make it down after his final theft. But, without a lap to leap to, I shuddered by myself until I could release my terror.
I loved the details such as the wind beginning to howl and the drapes and flags moving. My heart beat faster at that moment. In contrast, joyful lines for the puppets like ”It’s not everyday you have a chance to see a small boy pulling a cow named ‘Milky White,'” brought delight.
When the play ended, the afternoon did not. Most of the children, having been enthralled by the small puppets, came up to study them in some detail and afterwards some stayed to play with other puppets in a capacious puppet corner prepared for them.
This was an entire afternoon of puppetry and mime and story scariness and smiles and the children felt enveloped in it all and gave back to the performers after the show with their interest and their own imagination. The atmosphere remained magical throughout.
The children and their parents experienced a total immersion into the magic of puppetry and theater. I felt privileged to be in the audience.
Jacek Zuzanski is the director, designer and lead performer of Dream Tale Puppets, founded in 2003. Margaret Moody performs with Dream Tale Puppets and with Galapagos Puppets.
“Jack and the Beanstalk” was performed on December 7 as part of “Puppets at Arlington Center for the Arts,” now in its “fth season. For information on upcoming shows, please see galapagospuppets.blogspot.com.