Puppets in Review- Sleeping Beauty

The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre- Sleeping Beauty

Central Park at 81st St., New York, NY
May 18, 2001

review by Donald Devet

Nick Coppola has chosen a tongue-in-cheek approach to the story by poking fun at New York types.

Need the story be told again? Who has not already heard the familiar tale of a 16-year-old princess who sleeps for 100 years, all because she played with the sharp end of a spinning wheel? First told by Charles Perrault in 1697 to amuse the French court and eventually captured in print in “The Blue Fairy Book” of 1889, “Sleeping Beauty” has been regurgitated in an infinite variety of forms including ballet, symphony, film and theater.

For the past several decades New York City’s most durable full-time puppet theatre has appeared to sustain itself on past accomplishments. Shows first produced in the 70’s and 80’s have been remounted over and over again–sometimes with new puppets and costuming and sets and sometimes with just a cursory dusting off. Because the Cottage relies on a pre-recorded soundtrack for its shows, the scripts, voices and rhythms from the past thirty years have become an uncomfortable set of shackles. This year the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Central Park sponsored by the City of New York Parks and Recreation and City Parks Foundation has chosen to use the story of Sleeping Beauty as its declaration of freedom from these shackles.

Bruce Cannon, the current Artistic Director, has brought to this venerable stage a newly conceived show built completely from the ground up. Finally we have a show that reflects the look and sound of our times. The rhythms of New York City constantly change, along with the faces. “Sleeping Beauty” celebrates this change and cultural diversity by offering a glorious hodgepodge of character types– from a Park Avenue Princess to a hip hop Fairy Godfather. I must admit I’m at a disadvantage to remember a wealth of details. Not knowing I would be asked to write this review, I attended the command performance for the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York four months ago, like everyone else, simply as a spectator. Since I didn’t take notes, my facts may be fuzzy, but my impressions are indelible.

A show of this complexity requires dozens of people devoting their talents to months of writing, building and rehearsing. A large part of the credit for this innovative adaptation goes to Nick Coppola for his dual role as dramaturg– a major re-write of Colin Rudd’s script– and costume designer. Coppola has chosen a tongue-in-cheek approach to the story by poking fun at New York types. His gentle satire serves the story well. But Coppola’s wise decision to use New York City, more specifically, Central Park, as the setting makes the story all the more relevant. By featuring the park’s prominent landmarks and historic features–Belvedere Castle, Harlem Meer, the Ramble and the Angel of the Waters designed by Emma Stebbins in 1873–Coppola has blurred the lines between the fantasy of what we see on stage and the reality of what lies just beyond the theatre’s door.

The puppets are a collaboration between Addis Williams, Nick Coppola and a young illustrator, Francisco Rivera and were painted by David Ezra Stein. Daryl Kojak has done an admirable job in providing an up-to-date musical composition that evokes both a classical and contemporary mood. Because of their infectious rhythms, many of the songs invite audience participation. Addis Williams, wood carver, has created beautiful marionette faces expertly sculpted in light by Deborah Constantine.

Maybe this fresh adaptation of Sleeping Beauty will be a harbinger of even greater things to come for The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

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