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Site-specific staging traverses five floors of Upper East Side's Bohemian National Hall.
Festival also includes kids' fairy tales show, dance performance and Ex-expatriate poets' cafe.

Alissa Mello and the puppet who will play the Princess in "Twelve Iron Sandals"
Photo by Jonathan Slaff

"The Magic of Czech Puppetry" Mini-Festival October 6 to 31
Presented by GOH Productions
Bohemian National Hall, 321 E. 73rd St Street (between 1st and 2nd Aves.)
Schedules follow below
BOX OFFICE: (212) 631-3518
There has been a recent reawakening of puppetry as an art form and as adult entertainment, partly triggered by the vitality of Czech Puppetry in the last 20 years, during which time it pioneered performances that mix puppets of all sizes with live performers. The Czech puppet stage has been a voice of protest since the Austro-Hungarian Empire, achieving a peculiar freedom because its political statements were easy to conceal on small stage. During repressive times, puppet theater attracted leading talents who couldn't express themselves in conventional theater. Creatively, it thrived on the manifold possibilities of combining puppets and live people and established a formal dramatic relationship between the live performers, puppets and set, which imparts a particular sort of life to entire productions.

Czech puppetry employs wooden marionettes (as opposed to the fabric or papier maché ones used mostly today in the US) and particularly Czech characters who are often drawn from folk tales, including Vodnik the water spirit, a Water Nymph, a White Doe, a King, a Queen, a Prince and a Princess.

GOH Productions will present "The Magic of Czech Puppetry," its sixth mini-festival of this art form, at Bohemian National Hall, 321 E. 73rd Street, October 6 to 31. All performances are in English. This festival will contain three plays in repertory.

The centerpiece of the festival is the premiere of "Twelve Iron Sandals," a large-cast, site-specific "total theater" work by Vit Horejš that is intended for adults and older children. Especially for family audiences, Horejš will perform "The Fisherman's Clever Daughter (and other Czech Tales with Strings)," a virtuoso solo performance based on popular Czech fairy tales on a schedule of weekend matinees. The festival also includes "Morgon Kara in Morgon Kara," a mask and puppet dance suitable for all ages and "Ex-Expatriate Cafe," a program of readings by poets and writers from (or returned from) Eastern Europe.

Puppets of the Princess and the Prince from "Twelve Iron Sandals"
Photo by Jonathan Slaff
"Twelve Iron Sandals"
"Twelve Iron Sandals" is inspired by a seemingly simple Czech folk tale of the same name. It tells the story of a princess separated from her beloved husband by her own fatal flaw, a lack of patience. The husband is under a spell which forces him to turn into a lizard each night. Unable to wait for his release from the spell, the princess burns his lizard skin, and his plight becomes worse. The reptile prince is banished to a darkened dungeon far away, his body pierced by hundreds of needles. The play follows the wife’s perilous search for her man: to rescue him, she must wear through twelve iron sandals, break twelve iron staffs and eat twelve iron loaves of bread. Written and directed by Vit Horejš.

For its creators, this puppet tragedy is a significant step towards the company's ideal of "total theatre," in which puppets, objects, performers, music and a site-specific set are equal parts of a production telling a universal parable. Performers will lead the audience on a quest traversing five floors of historic National Bohemian Hall, interacting with marionettes of various sizes on several small and large "stages". The Hall is the former home of Manhattan Theatre Club but has been mostly vacant and decaying for the past ten years. Its eerie atmosphere of decrepit grandeur prompted the collaborators to envision this play as a traveling production, with performers and audiences walking from room to room for consecutive scenes.

The idea of a labyrinthine fairy tale was also partly inspired by the works of M.C. Escher (1898-1972), the Dutch graphic artist recognized for his spatial illusions, impossible buildings, repeating geometric patterns (tessellations) and incredible techniques in woodcutting and lithography. Escher drawings are extremely popular in the Czech Republic, where their attack on conventions of space, geometry and logic suits the national predilection for absurdity (bred by a steady diet of Kafka, Camus and relentless Communist propaganda).

Set design Roman Hladik, costume design Theresa Linnihan, music composed by Elise Morris. With Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw, Michael Kelly, Vít Horejš, Theresa Linnihan and Alissa Mello. Recommended for ages 12 to 112.

Vit Horejš's book, "Twelve Iron Sandals and other Czechoslovak Tales," (Prentice-Hall, 1985) was chosen as one of the best children's books of the year by the New York Public Library.

SCHEDULE: All performances 7:00 pm unless noted. Previews October 7, 8, opens October 9, runs October 10 (3:00 and 7:00), 14, 15, 16, 17 (3:00 and 7:00), 21, 23, 24(3:00 and 7:00), 28, 30, 31 (3:00 and 7:00). TICKETS: Previews $10, regular performances: $15 adults, $8 children under twelve. Benefit performance, reception and auction 10/14 at 7:00, minimum contribution $35. (212) 631-3518.

Vit Horejs, the puppet playing the Fisherman's Clever Daughter, and a four year-old afficianado of Czech puppetry. (photo: Jonathan Slaff)
"The Fisherman's Clever Daughter (and other Czech Tales with Strings)"
Vit Horejš performs a one-man show of Czech fairy tales (in English) chock-full of kings, clever village maidens, witches and spirits. His marionettes speak in dozen voices, dance, play violin, swim and fly. The program will be composed of two favorite Czech fairy tales, "Fisherman's Clever Daughter" (who impresses the King with her smarts, becomes his wife, but refuses to be held to a passive female role in the running of the Kingdom as well as the marriage) and "Salt Over Gold" (in which a Princess who values her father “only” as much as salt is banished but returns to save her father when salt disappears from his Kingdom). Recomended for children ages 4-104.

SCHEDULE: October 16 (1:00 and 3:00 pm), 17 (1:00 pm), 23 (1:00 pm and 3:00 pm), 24 (1:00 pm), 30 (1:00 pm) and 31 (1:00 pm). TICKETS: $8 adults, $5 children (212) 631-3518.

Photo of puppets by Morgon Kara
Photo by Drew Christman
"Morgon Kara in Morgon Kara"
A mask and puppet dance suitable for children ages 6-106. Morgon Kara is an ensemble of musicians, visual artists and performers from Brooklyn whose works tell mythic tales with puppets and masks. This piece deals with the story of a Siberian shaman who saves the soul of a woman from the dead. It is accompanied by traditional instruments of Siberia, free jazz and experimental music. Originally conceived as a pageant, it was adapted into a dance-theater piece. "Morgon Kara" is the name of a mythic Siberian shaman whose myth also explains the origin of the rim drum, an instrument used in Siberian storytelling. The troupe's influences include African, American Northwest Coast, Asian performance. Its performance history is mostly site-specific, including Tamar Rogoff's "Demeter's Daughter," in which the cast and audience traveled together through a variety of community gardens in the Lower East Side. Members of Morgon Kara have also worked with Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater on "The Golem" and with Ralph Lee on the Halloween production at Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This piece is adapted by Andrew Christrman and Matthew Lillis. Composer is Ed Feldman. Costumes are by Molly Grace. With Elizabeth Tyler, Genevieve Perrier, Tino Martinez, Violet Krumbein, Matthew Lillis, Kyle McCarthy, Andrew Christman and musicians Edward Feldman, Rob Hall and Ben Woolsey.

SCHEDULE: October 22 and 29 at 7:00 and 9:00 pm, October 30 at 3:00 pm. TICKETS: $15 adults, $8 children under twelve, (212) 631-3518.

"Ex-Expatriate Cafe"
Readings by poets and writers from (or returned from) Eastern Europe, curated by Stephanie Steiker. There is an open mike for expatriates and ex-expatriates with sign-up at 8:40 pm and readings at 9:00 pm.

SCHEDULE: October 21 and 28 at 9:00 pm. TICKETS: suggested donation $5.

Vit Horejš, an émigré from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in 1990 utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found in the Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. His trademark is using puppets of many sizes, from six-inch toy marionettes to approximately human-sized ones. Horejš is well-known for innovative re-interpretations of classics, including:

* "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" (1991, 1993, 1994), which incorporated age-old technical tricks, fire and thunder, hellish gargoyles and underwater creatures The work was part of NADA's Obie-winning Faust Festival in 1994. A new version will be staged in Spring, 2000 at La MaMa.

* "The White Doe" (1993, 1995), which blended traditional and modern puppetry and music,

* The film "Faust on a String," which received a Golden Eagle Award from CINE (Washington, DC) and has been screened in major festivals,

* "Golem" (1997, 1998), a dance work based on the Czech Jewish legend with music by Frank London, which was first presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and became part of the Jim Henson Foundation's Fourth International Festival of Puppet Theater last fall,

* A much-celebrated puppet version of "Hamlet" (1997), which debuted at the Vineyard Theater and subsequently was produced at the Karagöz Festival in Bursa, Turkey,

* "Rusalka, the Little Rivermaid" (1999), featuring music by jazz legend William Parker, which played to capacity audiences in La MaMa's Annex Theater last January and whose enthusiastic reception prompted a return engagement a month later.

"The Magic of Czech Puppetry" is supported, in part, by public funding from New York State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support from The Jim Henson Foundation, Materials for the Arts, A Program of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs/NYC Department of Sanitation and private donors. Official carrier is Czech Airlines. [NYTW]

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