"What the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater does is improbably fabulous, and they’re doing it again in their sublime new production."
- Anita Gates, New York Times
To tell Shakespeare's tale of twins separated in a shipwreck, the production will have eight- inch wonders of Czech craftsmen cavorting on the sands of Illyrian beaches, almost perishing in tumultuous waters teeming with giant fish and turtles, and bathing in champagne at the court of that paragon of Uptown decadence, Count Orsino. The lovelorn Count Orsino, the bumbling Toby Belch and his clowny compadres will be cast with woodenheaded actors. The waterfalls of wooing words written by William Shakespeare are adapted by that modern master of Bohemian rhapsodies, Vit Horejš.
The company has traditionally been most successful when enacting classic plays. Its productions of "Hamlet," "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" and "Golem" are the most celebrated in its repertoire.
This production is adapted and directed by Vít Horejš. Set Design is by Emily Wilson. Costume Design is by Michelle Beshaw (who received a 2009 Innovative Theatre Award for Costume Design for "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"). Lighting Design is by Federico Restrepo. Marionettes are by Milos Kasal. Featured puppeteer/actors are Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw and Vít Horejš. The production is recommended for ages 6-106.
This production will be the culminating event of The La MaMa Puppet Series Festival Part 3, a trio of adult puppet theater productions that are brimming with international art forms. The series is curated by Denise Greber. Its other productions are the newest work by Theodora Skipitares, "The Women of Troy" (October 8 to October 25) and Aphids Puppet Theatre of Australia in "A Quarreling Pair," three miniature puppet plays inspired by the work of the same name by American avant-garde writer Jane Bowles (October 29 to November 8). All three shows are $18 general admission. There are special discounts for purchasing multiple shows in the series: the Two Show Combo is $30; the Three Show Combo is $40.
The La MaMa Puppet Series 3 is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Jim Henson Foundation, Heather Henson and Cheryl Henson.
ABOUT CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATER (www.czechmarionettes.org) Vit Horejš, an emigre from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in 1990, utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found in the 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. Horejš is well known for innovative re-interpretations of classics. At La MaMa E.T.C., the company has performed "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald" (2004), "Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery" (2003), "The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Joan of France" (2001), "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" (2000), "The Little Rivermaid Rusalka" (1999), "Golem" (1997, which was featured in the 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival), and "Once There Was a Village" (2007), an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London.
"Johannes Dokchtor Faust" was featured in CAMT's 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). Other NYC productions include "A Christmas Carol--OY! Hanukkah--Merry Kwanzaa," "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 performed its "Hamlet" at the Vineyard Theater, in outdoor venues in NYC, and in the 2004 Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival in the Lord Chamberlain's Palace Courtyard at Prague Castle.
CAMT's "The Bass Saxophone," a WWII fantasy with music based on a story by 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.
In 2007, the troupe mounted one of the company’s signature pieces, "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," on a carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The production made an unmistakable comment on the merry-go-round of fate. Despite its unusual setting, the New York Times (Matthew Gurewitsch) characterized the production as "unabashedly old-fashioned, with just a few postmodern accents."
The troupe performed "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" at Theater for the New City in December, 2008. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, "Vit Horejš 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." That production was followed in the spring by "The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman" at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater of the West Side Y.
The Company 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 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.
Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre is a program of GOH Productions. This event has been made possible in part with public funds from the National Endowment of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Materials for the Arts, and private donors.
Gender Switch in Illya, with Players 8 Inches Tall
by Anita Gates, New York Times
Orsino emerges from a giant silver ice bucket. Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek straddle huge liquor bottles. Olivia makes an entrance in a loving cup big enough to hold her and a friend. Luckily, all the characters are played by eight-inch-tall marionettes; otherwise the set design budget would have been a monster.
What the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater does is improbably fabulous, and they’re doing it again in their sublime new production of “Twelfth Night (or What You Will)” at La MaMa.
When they call it a three-tea-tray production, they mean that literally. The play’s sets — Orsino’s palace, Olivia’s home and the Illyrian beach — are atop tea carts, which are adorned with pots, cups, goblets and other pretty serving pieces.
Although any children in the audience could probably just go with the production’s insistent silliness, knowing Shakespeare’s story is helpful. Viola, a shipwreck survivor, pretends to be a man to get a job with Count Orsino, Illyria’s ruler. Viola adores Orsino, but he’s obsessed with Olivia, who rejects him but promptly falls in love with Viola, thinking she’s a guy. The gang at Olivia’s gets drunk a lot and plays a practical joke on Malvolio. Then it turns out that somebody we thought was dead isn’t, which leads to a sexy case of mistaken identity.
The marionettes, elegantly dressed in period costumes, are as cute as talking buttons. But it all comes back to the three-person human cast, all outstanding comic actors: Vit Horejs, who is also the director and the company’s founder; Michelle Beshaw, who also designed the costumes; and Deborah Beshaw, her sister. They do more than lend their voices and puppetry skills to the doll-size stars. They’re always visible and sometimes step into the spotlight to dominate their tiny alter egos.
The best-known lines (like “If music be the food of love”) are still there, delivered with poetic punch and a dose of acerbic adorability, with laughs in all the right places and more.