Nightfall. An enormous socket pivots around to real Pierrot who is in charge of the heavens – a curtain of stars. Cranking a wooden ship’s wheel, he makes the moon rise. A giant plug and thick, red cord is dragged across the stage with difficulty and inserted, lighting the firmament. This is executed in slow, silent film like motion. Blackout.
One dislodged star (lighted globe) falls to the ground. Goodhearted Pretzel finds it. Our hero is an anthropomorphized worm, albeit one with a head, cheery Charlie McCarthyish face, shoulders, and arms. He wears a sweater, cap, and basket backpack, slithering on the knee area in undulating, two or three section movements.
Pretzel reaches out in wonder. Ouch! It’s hot! He blows on the star until he can touch it. Did you fall? he gestures. There are no words in this piece, only sounds assimilating them and intermittent music. (In complete silence, the kids’ attention tends to wander.)
When tossing the star up and climbing a ladder to place it between its neighbors prove fruitless, Pretzel embarks on an odyssey. Along the way, he helps old lady, Daisy Bygone, with her groceries, encounters kewpie-like, motormouth baby, Maggie Mischief, and a benign giant (this puppet looks eight to ten feet long), who raises his shirt to reveal a dancing spider. The baby usurps this stage-in-the-stomach with a caterwauling performance. When Maggie giggles, the audience giggles, when she has a tantrum, audience kids parrot her nonsense words.
Maggie, the Giant, the Spider
Learning Pretzel’s predicament, the spider weaves a web strand to the sky. Our hero finds himself on a tightrope with a uni-cyclist, almost falls, gets rescued by Cedric the Centaur and is suddenly underwater. He comes upon sleeping creatures and occupies an empty bed. We observe a seahorse family picnic, accordion fish play catch with the escaped star, an enormous mermaid sympathize, and a character with a doll’s head and tentacles (the Bubble Charmer) toss it back and forth between “arms.”
Eventually Pretzel hooks the star on a fishing line, then we’re suddenly in the old lady’s apartment. Getting it back where it belongs is now her challenge. She succeeds.
Pretzel finds Beds
The puppets are beautifully imagined and skillfully handled. Nuanced gestures help us believe we see facial expression. Staging area is an enclosed 15 feet by 25 feet. Puppet scale varies hugely: Pretzel, is about 14 inches, the baby perhaps eight inches, the giant and mermaid around ten feet. Intermittent music is atmospheric.
Even dreamscapes need some loose cohesion, however. We never see how Pretzel gets underwater; he’s just there. The seahorse segment has nothing to do with the lost star. Daisy’s reappearance makes no sense without a bridge to the star-bearer. Necessary connections are absent. I would put some of my objection down to being a grownup, but I hear too many kids question things as we exit. Though lovely to look at, there’s much confusion, not with the piece’s reality, but in its sequential narrative.
Pretzel and Cedric
The always illuminating New Victory program includes conversation with the puppeteers, but no listing of character names identifying who and what (not always clear) we’re watching. I got these from press materials. The Star Keeper has played worldwide since 1997.
Photos by Leon Gniwesch
Opening: Mrs. Bygone and Pretzel
Théâtre de l’Œil’s The Star Keeper
Jean Cummings, Stephane Heine, Myriame LaRose, Graham Soul
The New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street