A boy' bittersweet memories of his grandparents inspired the creation of Eric Bass's capricious puppetry work, "Invitations to Heaven (Questions of a Jewish Child)" now playing at the Theatre Project tonight through Sunday.
Gone are the days of simple children's puppetry. This art form has now gained in popularity as serious adult theater. Nostalgic and charming with a -- of earthy humor to keep it from sinking into maudlin sentimentality, the 90-minute memory piece combines playful images of heaven with live performances by Bass and Evan Harlan, adroit puppetry and Yiddish music.
The rituals of Passover, one of the major Jewish holidays, are observed through song and dance. However, the unique stage work does not follow any real theatrical structure. If one is not familiar with Yiddish, the Jewish religion and folklore the play can be difficult to follow.
In the show Bass, founder of the Sandglass Theatre in Vermont, acts as himself as an adult and as a child. He also plays the Guardian Angel Elijah while deftly manipulating his intricately carved, handmade puppets representing his grandparents (from wedding day to death-bed) in full view of the audience. Harlen is the silent Angel Omeyn (Amen) who plays all the music adapted and composed by Alan Bern and Richard Edelman splendidly on the accordion.
Adopting a laid back, naturalistic style of storytelling and acting technique, the amiable Bass kids around with the idea of angels and heaven where his deceased relatives supposedly now dwell after a tumultuous lifetime relationship.
This work appears to be a personal catharsis for Bass who seems unable to accept the fact that his grandparent's mismatched, arranged marriage was an unhappy experience for both. Evoking the spirits of the dead, Bass regresses to his childhood, asking endless questions of his grandfather regarding love, faith and God. In the end, his own innate wisdom provides the answers he so sorely seeks.
The puppets in Bass's skillful hands (he acts as a kind of emcee) seem to breathe real life as they enact the couple' constant wrangling. But it is the tender moments which quietly move the hearts of the audience.
"Invitations to Heaven," although a bit tedious at times, is an enchanting slice of imaginative theater and is slated to be included in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in New York in the fall.
The Barnstormers' student production of the dandy musical comedy by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, "Stop The World I Want To Get Off!," being staged at Catonsville Community College through May 4, is a little marvel of a show.
Directed and choreographed with great flair and style by John Wynne, artistic director and managing director of the theater department, the life story of Littlechap, a shallow, opportunistic young man, unfolds through the lyrics of such popular classics as "I'm Gonna Build A Mountain," "Once In A Lifetime," "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "Someone Nice Like You."
Gary Hiel is Littlechap and his is a superb performance. Not only does he masterfully deliver the technical power of the songs but he imbues the lyrics with proper intent and passion.
Charmaine Arca is very good as Evie, the long suffering wife. Her strong vocal range lends itself to a variety of amusing characterizations.
A shharply hhhoned singing and dancing chorus is the backup structure for Littlechap's adventures. The talented cast includes: Melissa Feeny, Michhelle Bar-av, Eric Rawlings, Jarvis Leigh, Dianne Baker, Sherilee Maenner, Michele Monti, Dede Newport and Nicole Quickley.
Piano virtuoso Mike DeVito provides tha wonderful musical accompaniment.
Kudos to excellent actress Trish Blackburn who stepped in at the very last minute for an ailing Catherine Hyde to play the lead in the current Vagabond Players production of "Rashomon" by Fay and Michael Kanin running weekends through May 5.
Directed by John Bruce Johnson, Blackburn's fine performance was delicately phrased with all the significant motivations and subtle shadings needed. One hardly noticed the script she was carrying.
WORTH MENTIONING: "Party Schmartz," a funny yet sometimes dark new work by Sun staffer, Kevin Brown, debuted last weekend at 1001 Cathedral St. Produced by the New Metropolitan Theatre Company, Brown's play (in which he played the lead) dealt delightfully with the gossip, the phonies and the strange social mores of the Baltimore party circuit.
In addition to Brown, hilarious performances were given by Bertha V. Moore, Carolyn Marcus, Kelly Ward and Lisa Simeone.