The Three Billy Goats Gruff at The Puppet Co.

The Puppet Co. presents The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a classic children’s tale brought to life with impressive marionettes, written by Len, Pat and Christopher Piper.

Performer Christopher Piper is interactive with the kids from the first second he steps onstage. Asking for a louder “Good morning!” from the children, he is not satisfied until the whole foundation seems to shake with thunderous greetings. He takes some time to tell the kids about different kinds of puppets, and then, with instructions and hints shouted from the audience, proceeds to make a hand puppet that he names ‘Mabel,’ and hysterically argues with her while the children (and adults, I may add) shriek with laughter. He then brings out a rod puppet and a marionette, and shows how they are used. After asking the audience questions about the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff, it is time for the actual play.

Uneven, draped steps make up a barren mountaintop that the three goats traipse across, hungrily scrounging for food, in a set cleverly designed by Josephine Durkin. Piper, who stands on a raised platform, rotates the set around him to reveal a wooden bridge that leads to grass-covered hills. Music helps set the temperament of the plot, whether brisk and jaunty or foreboding, and Piper is mic’d, so he is easily heard above both the accompanying music and the screams of excited children. Lighting is also used to develop the mood, lending a green hue during the troll’s scenes that flashes ominously when he yells, while the billy-goats walk in sunshine.

While starving on their bleak mountaintop, the youngest brother finds it hard to resist the temptation of the plentiful hills that lay beyond the bridge, and sets out to cross it, despite his older brother’s warnings about an evil troll that lives beneath it. His brothers are not far behind as the youngest billy-goat takes his first steps across the bridge. True to form, the troll appears, brandishing a club and telling the small goat that he will make for a good barbeque. Are these three brothers clever enough to trick a hungry, ill-tempered troll?

Piper uses a range of voices, so that each character has a distinct personality. From the deep monotone of the eldest brother, the pipsqueak whine of the youngest, and the rough yell of the troll, every character is unique. The puppets in question are also of his own making, along with Mayfield Piper, and are indeed pieces of artwork themselves. There is plenty of interaction before the show, and then the show itself, which is very entertaining.

All of the children enjoyed it immensely, and I loved it too! I was not alone, either, as my fellow adults’ loud laughter occasionally eclipsed the children’s. The best part is that when you leave, you need to cross an actual bridge in order to get to the parking lot. Watching the children clamor around, looking for a troll, was a sweet moment that I’ll remember for a while.

Running time: 45 minutes with no intermission.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff plays through November 18th at The Puppet Co., in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Blvd., in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call (301) 634-5380, or order them online.