After a long string of shows that were more for adults (alright, kids were never turned away), Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre has resolved to put on a new family-friendly show (but don’t tune out, parents. You won’t be disappointed). The play is being developed in the company’s own Magic Garden on a hill overlooking Cold Spring in the Hudson Valley. Amid this rustic tranquility, director Vit Horejs sees a magic lake where the marionettes go on boat rides and sometime even swim in the summer or skate in the winter. He sees an abandoned orchard in the forest, overgrown with weeds, vines and thorny bushes, where deer come to eat apples and pears. The pears make them shed their antlers and the apples make them grow again, bigger than before. That zoological curiosity was inspiration for a play that unifies three Czech fairy tales of elusive origin.
One tale tells about the Camel who lost his beautiful antlers and his tail. They were never returned after he lent them to the antlerless deer and the tailless horse. The second tale tells of a spell cast on the youngest brother of a family that turned him into a deer. He keeps coming to the family’s cottage in the forest, looking sadly in the window. He might have been unspelled in the end, but nobody can remember how. The third tale, the backbone of the piece, is about a former soldier who is given magical treasures by a grateful wizard, but is cheated out of them by a king and princess. So he gives them enchanted apples to make them grow antlers. They get stuck in the palace windows and everybody laughs at them. When the soldier gets his stolen gifts back, he may or may not cure the Princess and King. This new play is built around a series of memory lapses: the playwright and the ensemble cannot remember some important parts of the stories, so they have to choose from different fragments they do recall. The tales are interwoven to inspire the cast to remember or make up parts of the stories they have seemed to forget.
The actor/puppeteers (who are doing the concocting) are Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw, Theresa Linnihan and Vit Horejs. Music will be a capella Czech folk songs. The set, by the company, is built from spiraling coils of vines from the Magic Garden itself. Lighting design is by Federico Restrepo.
ABOUT CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATRE
Vit Horejs, an emigre from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) in 1990, utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found at Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. His trademark is using puppets of many sizes, from six-inch toy marionettes to twelve-foot rod puppets which double as scenery. CAMT is dedicated to preserving and presenting traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry.
Theater for the New City has presented the company in four productions. In 2013, puppets and live performers enacted an enigmatic tale of early World War II in “King Executioner,” written and directed by Vit Horejs, loosely based on “When you are a King, You will be an Executioner” (1968) by the Polish magical realist novelist Tadeusz Nowak (1930-1991).”Mr. M” (2011) was the first American stage adaptation of “Mr. Theodore Mundstock” by Ladislav Fuks, a postwar Czech writer of psychological fiction. “Revolution!?” (2010) was performed in collaboration with three new vaudeville performers from Prague; it was a theater spectacle that examined revolutions throughout the history of mankind as a backdrop for the extraordinary peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. “The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes, and about Their Untymelie End while Sitting in a Small Room at the Correctional Facility in Ossining New York” (2008) explored the Rosenberg trial with a manipulated set, props and found objects. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, “Vit Horejs has written and directed a first-rate, thoroughly original production and made it look effortless. The cast gives charged, cohesive performances, and the staging is expert.”
At La MaMa, the company has performed “The Little Rivermaid Rusalka” (1999), “Johannes Dokchtor Faust” (2000), “The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Joan of France” (2001), “Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery” (2003), “The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald” (2004), “Once There Was a Village” (2007), an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London of the Klezmatics; “Twelfth Night (or What You Will)” (2009), “The Republic, or My Dinner with Socrates” (2013) and the troupe’s most successful work, “Golem” (1997, 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival, and 2011), which also had a score by Frank London. Last month, the company revived its “A Christmas Carol-OY! Hanukkah-Merry Kwanzaa” there.
Productions in other venues have ranged from Czech classics to Shakespeare to fairy tales. “Johannes Dokchtor Faust” premiered in its first season (1990) and was re-staged in 1994 as part of NADA’s Obie Award-winning “Faust Festival” in Soho. It was revived at La MaMa in 2000 and at Manhattan’s Bohemian Hall in 2007. “Hamlet” debuted at the Vineyard Theater in 1997, was performed at outdoor venues in NY, and toured to the 2004 Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle. It was revived on Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn in 2007. “The Bass Saxophone,” a WWII fantasy with music based on a story by Czech-Canadian writer Josef Skvorecky, played 11 weeks at the Grand Army Plaza Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn during the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006. CAMT’s productions for young audiences include “A Christmas Carol-OY! Hanukkah-Merry Kwanzaa,” “The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman,” “Kacha and the Devil,” “The White Doe – Or The Piteous Trybulations of the Sufferyng Countess Jenovefa,” “Snehurka, The Snow Maiden” and “Twelve Iron Sandals.”
CAMT has also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center, the Smithsonian Institution, The World Trade Center, the Antonin Dvorak Festival in Spillville, Iowa, the 2012 inauguration of The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Heart of the Beast in Minneapolis, the Lowell Folk Arts Festival in Massachusetts and in international festivals in Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, and the Czech Republic.
This production is supported by public funds from The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, In Partnership with the City Council, and from Council Member Rosie Mendez. Additional support comes from Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Materials for the Arts, Czech Center New York and private donors.
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave,East Village, NYC will presnet “The Magic Garden, or, The Princess Who Grew Antlers,” March 5 to 22, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission, $8 kids. The box office number is (212) 254-1109 and tickets can be purchased online at www.theaterforthenewcity.net. The play is recommended for audiences aged 5 to 105. The running time is 1:15.