Playhouse Puppetry Slam at The Puppet Co.

On Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 7 and 9 PM, The Puppet Co. presented its fifth Playhouse Puppetry Slam, a collection of puppetry skits that broke free of its typical children’s genre and explored adult themes, directed by Eric Brooks.

A pop-up toy theater piece with Travis Lope and Leah Sylvain entitled 'Enchanted Vanity Set.' Photo by Bruce Douglas.

Normally a children’s sanctuary, The Puppet Co.’s auditorium matured on Saturday night, covering the boldly colored rugs that kids usually sprawl out on with neatly lined chairs. The Just Friends Jazz Quartet (The JFQ) sat in the corner of the stage and played upbeat tunes for the audience before the show began (and also during), while Lighting Designers Eric Brooks and Dan Brooks dimmed the lights to create an adult-friendly atmosphere. A raised platform onstage allowed the presenters to showcase their puppets and props effectively.

Applause Unlimited’s Christopher Hudert hosted the event, introducing each artist with informal and enjoyable segways. Travis Lope and Leah Sylvain’s mask skit, Curious Gifts, started off the evening, and immediately proved that the night was for adults only, as a man in a haunting costume made up of crumpled rags eerily moved across the stage to collect a ‘gift’ that, once the audience saw what it was, sent gasps through the theatre.

Tom Getchall with Travis Lope entitled "Hope for Hobo." Photo by Bruce Douglas.

While all of the skits showed talent, some were more memorable than others. My personal favorite was Honey Goodenough’s marionette performance, Sweet Dreams. Her puppet of choice was a baby blanket, which, when the right strings were pulled, was brought to life, and went about rocking itself in a miniature chair. Accompanied by a soft lullaby, I’m sure that this touching and thoughtful sketch will stay with me for a long time.

An audience favorite was The Hoarding Show, a skit by Carole D’Agostino, that shed light on the serious issue of hoarding while also being humorous, as a tabletop shadow puppet stated once inside the house of a hoarder, “They got everything in there but the kitchen sink!…oh, wait, they have five kitchen sinks.”

The same Carole D’Agostino later wowed the crowd again as she collected random items from the audience for Object Theatre Time! Using an assortment of things that audience members handed over, D’Agostino improvised a tabletop skit after asking for an action verb and a noun for the title. The audience shouted out various words, and she settled on ‘Flamingo Scratch,’ and then used every object (including a cane) to create a spontaneous and impressive sketch right off the top of her head.

Travis Lope and Leah Sylvain were very entertaining in their toy theatre skit, The Enchanted Vanity Set. Their tabletop setup was similar to a pop-up book, as with a flick of the hand, the set became more elaborate and interactive. A fairy tale about a girl that uses her magical vanity mirror to escape an evil king, the impressive and ever-changing cardboard set proved to be more engaging than the plot itself.

Playhouse Puppetry Slam ended the night with Halloween Lullaby, performed by Don Becker, Michael Cotter, Barry Gordemer, and Maxwell Heaton. A combination of tabletop and mask puppetry, this devilishly fun skit shows the torturous outcome of what happens when Halloween candy fights back.

Woven together with about a dozen skits, Playhouse Puppet Slam was a very enjoyable show. It took a genre of entertainment that is usually reserved for children and proved that, yes, adults can enjoy puppets too. Theatrical and visual arts are usually enjoyed separately, but the use of different types of puppetry distorts the lines that divide these fields, which is very interesting to watch, and extremely entertaining.

Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission

Playhouse Puppetry Slam has completed its run at The Puppet Co. – in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Blvd., in Glen Echo, MD. For information on future puppetry slams, please click here.

Watch a video preview of The Puppet Co.’s Playhouse Puppetry Slam.