Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre Performs ‘The White Doe’ Play

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For audiences of all ages, Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater will perform “The White Doe,” a classic play of the Czech Puppetry repertoire, adapted and directed by Vit Horejs, August 8 to 18 at Bohemian National Hall, 321East 73rd Street. The piece has not been seen in New York since 2001. It is a 17th century tale of a diabolical steward named Golo, who schemes to steal the wife of his lord, Count Sylkfrid, but is undone by the testimony of a ghost and by a white doe who reunites the couple on a hunting trip.

The play was called “downright hilarious. An indescribable experience” by Matthew Murray in Talkin’ Broadway. Puppetry Journal wrote, “Vit Horejs threatens to become Cecile B. DeMille of puppeteers.” The actor/puppeteers are: Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw, Ron Jones, Vit Horejs and Steven Ryan.

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LR: Golo, Count Sykfrid, Countess Jenovefa, cook Drago, Stomper, Tristat on his trusty horse. These marionettes are by Jakub Kuba Krejci. Photos were taken in Prague in 1992, on the stairs behind Jakub Krejci’s cafe, U zavesenyho kafe, a delightful little place adorned by his carvings. These modern marionettes take stage along side a handful of antique marionettes in the play.

While the Count Sylkfrid is off to the war he leaves his wife, the chaste countess Jenovefa, in the care of his trusted steward Golo. As soon as the count leaves his castle however, Golo begins to court the countess. When she rejects him, Golo orders her and the cook Drago to be thrown into the dungeon and sends a message to the count falsely accusing them of infidelity.

The count, deceived by a witch, believes the accusation and orders the countess to be executed. Good-hearted guards take pity on Jenovefa and help her leave the castle with a promise never to return again. With a heavy heart, the countess leaves the castle to live in a desolate wasteland with her son, who had been born in prison. The count is berated by his knight Tristan for his impulsive behavior. The ghost of the cook Drago appears to tell the count the true story of Golo’s betrayal. Unaware that his treason has been revealed, Golo proposes a hunting trip. Sylkfrid, led by a white doe, wanders off from his hunting party to the cave where Jenovefa is living with their son, now seven years old. Jenovefa and Sylkfrid rejoice at their reunion and Golo is justly punished for his misdeed. All ends with a surprise twist.

The play’s six acts are bracketed by Czech folk songs with arrangement and vocals by Elise Morris.

In 18th century Europe, the only theatrical productions available in small towns and villages were shows performed by itinerant puppeteers. These plays were a whimsical mixture “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” heroic legends, and rudimentary pre-Shakespearean tragedies. “The White Doe” was among the top hits of the Czech marionette repertoire. Admired by Kings, Princesses, Princes, and Philosopher-Presidents on five continents, it will now be performed in English for American Audiences.

This production features five century-old marionettes and numerous marionettes designed for the production by Prague-based Jakub “Kuba” Krejci.

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (www.czechmarionettes.org) was founded in 1990 in New York City when Vit Horejs and Jan Unger, two Czech-born puppeteers, found and put to work two dozen antique marionettes that had “slept” for fifty years in an attic at Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. With them, Horejs created “Faust,” one of his most enduring plays, and 20 more original works of puppet theater and dance, including innovative re-interpretations of classics, and assembled a company of actors, dancers and puppeteers that has performed his works in venues all over NYC including La MaMa E.T.C., Theater for the New City, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, NY Public Library and World Financial Center. Vit Horejs received a NYFA 2012 fellowship in Folk/Traditional Arts.

The company is renowned for both children’s puppet theater and adult puppet theater. In November, 2009 at La MaMa, the company performed a much-celebrated Czech marionette version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night (or What You Will)” on three tea trays. The New York Times (Anita Gates) described the company’s work “improbably fabulous” and the production as “sublime.” Last fall at La MaMa, the troupe reprised its “Golem” with music by Frank London (Klezmatics). The New York Times (Catherine Rampall) wrote, “‘Golem’ uses 19th-century versions of special effects, but its visual illusions feel far more magical than anything you’ll see in a Broadway blockbuster.” The Forward (Gwen Orel) called the production “hard to forget. For children it’s a romp, fun and different; for adults it’s all that, but tinged with sadness.”

Jakub “Kuba” Krejci (marionette designer), a graduate of the Prague Puppetry School (1978), designs and carves marionettes in both traditional and modern styles. His marionettes range in size from eight to over eighty inches. Mr. Krejci has created sets and puppets for scores of productions throughout Czechoslovakia, including for the Drak and Minor Theatres, and for theaters in Switzerland, Germany, and Poland. Among the productions he designed were Faust, Don Quixote, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a large repertory of traditional and contemporary Czech puppet plays. His designs and marionettes have been shown at numerous exhibitions in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.He has created over 20 marionettes for the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre’s productions of The White Doe, Golem (nominated for American Theatre Wing’s 1998 Hewes Design Award), Hamlet and the Rusalka puppet for Rusalka, the Little Rivermaid.

Bohemian National Hall, located at 321 East 73rd Street (between 1st-2nd Avenues), has a storied history. It was built in 1896, in the heart of a thriving Czech and Slovak neighborhood, by Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association (BBLA), an organization created as a non-profit umbrella representing over two dozen Czech and Slovak organizations. The landmark building housed Manhattan Theatre Club in 1970s but fell into disrepair and was mostly closed since 1975, when an illegal sale of the building by one of member organizations tied up its future in legal limbo for several years. It was largely unused until the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre brought its wooden performers there in 1992. Finally, the remaining organizations of BBLA devised a plan to save the building through its transfer to the government of the Czech Republic, which has renovated the building to its original splendor. It is currently home of many events presented by BBLA and its member organizations, as well as those of Czech Center New York and the Consulate General of the Czech Republic.

This event has been made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Materials for the Arts, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, with support from Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association and Czech Center New York.

Performances are from August 8 to 18, 2012 at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street (between 1st-2nd Avenues)in New York City. The production schedule is Wednesdays to Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Tickets are $18 general admission; $12 for children under 12 and seniors. Box office is www.smarttix.com or (212) 868-4444. The company’s website is www.czechmarionettes.org. This show is suitable for audiences ages 6-106. The running time is 70 minutes.