Peter and the Wolf at The Puppet Co.

The Puppet Company Playhouse presents Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, a classic Russian composition traditionally accompanied by narration, and now…puppets!

A set by Allan Stevens shows a raised platform, on which stands the interior of a humble cottage, with a high-backed, Russian-themed chair in one corner, and a modest fireplace in the other. The set is turned to show a leafy meadow, while lighting by Dan Brooks uses shadows to create the illusion of plentiful trees. Performer and Puppet Designer Christopher Piper stands behind this platform, on which he attends to several marionettes at once, each with a distinct voice and personality. Piper is extraordinarily skilled at performing multiple characters in a solo act, lending each one a specific voice and unique mannerisms. This wide range is very impressive, and it makes him a joy to watch with every visit.

As the excited children scurry to find spots on the carpeted floor, Piper engages them in conversation and quizzes them on their knowledge of the children’s story that they are about to see. I’m surprised at how much the children know about the tale, and listen as Piper explains how each character and theme is revealed through their own instrumental score. For instance, a whistley, playful flute is used for a bird, while the brassy intimidation of the French horn is signals the wolf. The slow, building baritone of the bassoon is perfect for the old grandfather, while plucky string instruments are a great match for the young, lively Peter. Instruments and music play a huge role in individualizing these characters, which I found very interesting.

Photo by Christopher Piper.

Photo by Christopher Piper.

The story begins with Peter asking his grandfather if he can go wolf hunting, as an ominous yowling sounds in the distance. His grandfather insists that Peter is still too young for the dangerous mission, but Peter is determined to show that he is mature and courageous enough, and sets a trap in the meadow anyway. When this trap yields no results (and catches nothing but Peter himself when he steps into it!) he decides to go looking for the wolf’s lair. His friend Natasha, a duck (accompanied by the bold oboe) decides to go help him, but she finds the wolf first instead. Can Peter save his friend from the wolf’s clutches? Will he be able to capture the wolf himself, or was his grandfather right…is he not ready for such a task?

I always have such a fun time when I visit The Puppet Co., and today was no different. With a great score and playful, fun marionettes, Peter and the Wolf is a hit with both children and their parents. This was made even clearer when, upon leaving, I spotted a smiling Piper being nearly tackled by excited children, eager to pose with him and his puppet while their beaming parents take pictures. For a fun family afternoon out, I highly recommend taking in a showing of Peter and the Wolf.

Running time: 40 minutes, without an intermission.

Peter and the Wolf plays through February 19, 2012, at The Puppet Company in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Blvd., in Glen Echo, MD. To purchase tickets, call (301) 634-5380 or order them online.