The Puppet Co., now in its 40th season, produces beautiful shows. Sleeping Beauty, which runs through April 9, is no exception. The set is bedecked with roses and draperies and stonework scrolls, and the rod puppets’ costumes are lavish confections of late 18th-century dress.
In other elements, unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty snoozes on the job.
First, as directed by Elizabeth Dapo, it is slow. Toddlers, the company’s core audience, have short attention spans, and especially recently, children’s entertainment has been picking up the pace to almost breakneck speed. Although countering that trend could be a noble goal, the best way to do it is not long pauses between lines, or even worse, between scenes. The halting and repetitious dialogue gives the impression that the puppeteers (Cate Ginsberg, Gabe Jolly, and Danny Pushkin) are almost making it up as they go along, or at least stretching it out. And since there is only one set in this show, and no costume changes, why should the young audience be left sitting in the dark between scenes long enough that some of them begin crying? These might be opening-day faults, and hopefully will be corrected as the run progresses, but they are nevertheless surprising.
Granted, Sleeping Beauty is such a well-known, simple story — you know, princess is cursed by an evil fairy to prick her finger on a spindle and sleep for 100 years and is wakened by prince — that something must be done to pad it out to even the 45 minutes of a tiny tots’ puppet show such as this. And the best children’s entertainment throws in sly touches to entertain the parents and caregivers who must bring the little ones to see it. This Sleeping Beauty starts out promisingly with the amusing idea that “Evil Fairy #13” is working on her anger-management issues but slips and turns a Storyteller character into, essentially, Kermit the Frog. It also hints at questioning the idea of “happily ever after” when the Storyteller says several times, “It’s my job to tell them what they want to hear.” And the Prince doesn’t actually wake Sleeping Beauty with a kiss.
But other than those, any attempts to update or enhance the story seem somewhat aimless. There’s an extended sequence of the King mulling over silly names for the baby princess that are nixed by the storyteller in favor of … Briar Rose? The Prince basically doesn’t do anything besides show up when the sleeping spell is ending, and no one seems to question the idea that he should ask to marry a princess he’s just met; in fact, when the Princess asks the Storyteller’s advice, he again says, “It’s my job to tell them what they want to hear.” And then suddenly a lady-frog appears just in time to kiss the ex-frog-storyteller, turn into a human, and ta dah! a double wedding.
Sure, it’s cute. And a children’s puppet show doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize–winning drama. But every little girl in the audience has probably seen Frozen, which at long last questions the idea of marrying a virtual stranger, and if this show’s creators were going to modify the story, why not do it a little more purposefully? The website description refers to it as a “legacy show,” however, so perhaps that explains it.
If the cast and crew can pick up the pace of the production, the show will be a sweet little diversion to welcome kids to the world of puppetry and live performance. The Puppet Co.’s Sleeping Beauty is pretty, charming, and slow. But these days, we expect more from our princesses.
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes.
Sleeping Beauty plays through April 9, 2023 (Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30 am, Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 am & 1 pm) presented by the Puppet Co. performing at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, MD. For information call 301.634.5380 or email [email protected] Tickets are $15 per person (under age 2, no ticket required) and may be purchased at the door or online.
The program for Sleeping Beauty is online here.
Recommended for ages 4+.
ASL-interpreted performance: March 19 at 11:30 am
Sensory-friendly performance: April 2 at 11:30 am
COVID Safety: Masks are strongly encouraged. Masks are REQUIRED for performances from March 23 to March 26. See Puppet Co.’s full COVID Safety plans here.
Directed by Elizabeth Dapo
Original Script Adaptation by Duane T. Bowers
Script Revisions by Eric Brooks, Laurie Gilkenson & The 2023 Puppet Co. Cast and Team
Cate Ginsberg as Fairy 13 and others
Gabe Jolly as Briar Rose and others
Danny Pushkin as Storyteller and others
DESIGNERS AND CREW
Original Puppet and Scenic Design: Christopher Piper, MayField Piper, Allan Stevens, Eric Brooks
Puppet and Scenic Crew: Elizabeth Dapo, Dre Moore
Original Sound and Lighting Design: Christopher Piper
Sound and Lighting Design: Elizabeth Dapo