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Crustacean in Congress? 

A water-based kids' show proves a good dry run for Paper Hand Puppet Intervention's annual Forest Theater gig

Granted, it's not particularly remarkable when a crayfish crawls to the shore of a majestic river. But when a blue one proceeds to read the riot act to a mustachioed water thief once he gets there, it can only mean one thing: The Paper Hand Puppet Intervention is back in town.

Saturday's audience at the Festival for the Eno and the Sunday afternoon crowd at Carrboro's Weaver Street Market watched as an indigo crustacean took his case--and the Earth's--to the floor of the Senate in the activist art company's latest work, a children's show called The Crawdad's Conundrum.

Those who know the group's political protest work will find much familiar in this half-hour presentation. The four-year-old company has always couched its points about economics and the environment in metaphorical and often whimsical scripts, with live music and puppets of all shapes and sizes. In previous offerings, including A Very Old Unfinished Story, Listen to the Sky and Uprising, regional audiences have marveled at Paper Hand's wide range of hand-made characters: Animals, humans, birds and the sun--along with politicians, polluters and corporate robber barons--have all been vividly represented by bunraku puppets, vast, colorful multi-story rod puppets--which take three or more puppeteers to operate--and a number of other creations in between.

But The Crawdad's Conundrum is surprisingly small for a group used to staging the heavens and the earth (along with the rise and fall of assorted economic and political systems) on the dirt and stone stage of Chapel Hill's Forest Theater. The current offering takes place on a small, curtained wooden stage, behind which two puppeteers--Donovan Zimmerman and Marcia Pentecost--manipulate a cast of characters including a reticent deer, a macho turtle and various members of Congress.

In the world of the play, all is well in the natural world until Man shows up. But when a settler stops by the river one day, takes a little water--and then returns to take more, and more--the animals must take matters into their own hands. Jan Burger accompanies his own rhymed narration with accordion, miscellaneous percussion and harmonica. The inventive company uses slapstick humor and sight gags to make their points to a children's audience.

Over 150 people crowded around the little stage at the Eno last Saturday, while another 100 looked on from tables and picnic blankets in front of Carrboro's Weaver Street Market Sunday.

A condensed version of the company's Water of Life, Conundrum's smaller set-up is designed to make the work more portable. Plus a simpler show frees the rest of the group to work on their next larger work: The Dream and the Lie, which bows next month at the Forest Theater. "We're doing four vignettes this year," says Zimmerman, "each highlighting a different type of puppetry. The most complex puppets will take five people to make them work."

The Dream and the Lie starts Aug. 28, and runs through Sept. 12. Before that, Paper Hand Puppet Intervention performs The Crawdad's Conundrum Saturday, July 12 at 1 p.m. at the new Southern Village branch of Weaver Street Market, just outside Chapel Hill. The company's "puppet hotline" is 923-1857.

This week: The theater siesta ends with five new productions across the region. We wonder what a comedy club is going to do with Eugene Ionesco's absurdist masterpiece The Bald Soprano , which begins a three-weekend run at Raleigh's Comedy Worx Friday night.

Regional audiences enjoyed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers when Manbites Dog presented it two seasons ago. Actors Comedy Lab presents Lindsay-Abaire's second play, Wonder of the World , starting Thursday at N.C. State's Thompson Theater.

Meanwhile, Open Door Theater keeps its annual summertime date with the Reduced Shakespeare Company with The Complete History of America (Abridged) . Its "moving target" tour of the Triangle touches down for early shows at Southpoint this week, before heading to Skylight Exchange, Jo and Joe's, both Weaver Street Markets and Chapel Hill's Rosemary Street Ampitheater in the coming weeks.

Carrboro's ArtsCenter follows up on last summer's well-intentioned, first--and quite uneven--Ten Minute Play Festival with Ten by Ten in the Triangle, opening Thursday night.

And patrons who snatched up tickets for North Carolina Theater's The Sound of Music will finally see how those beginners' acting lessons went with the actual Von Trapp Children (four generations removed), starting Friday night. EndBlock

  • A water-based kids' show proves a good dry run for Paper Hand Puppet Intervention's annual Forest Theater gig

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