The Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, named for Muppets creator Jim and his puppeteering family, finishes off its fifth year of bringing the world's puppetmasters to New York City Sept. 24. Venues across Manhattan, from the Public and New York Theatre Workshop to the Japan Society and HERE, have hosted various puppet players since Sept. 6. A U.S. tour, stopping in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, will follow.
Among this year's festival highlights:
• Street of Blood, a "prairie gothic epic" on the issue of bloodlust by Canada's Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes
• Assemblage of Souls, a circus from the end of the earth and the latest from New York's Cosmic Bicycle Theatre
• The Girl Who Waters Basil & The Nosy Prince, the story of Federico Garcia Lorca's travels intermingled with a classic Andalusian tale performed by Cuban actor Ruben Dario Salazar
• The Far Side of the Moon, a U.S. premiere from Canada's Robert Lepage, which features music by Laurie Anderson
• Snuffhouse Dustlouse, from the United Kingdom, Faulty Optic's signature production
• Stowaways, the U.S. premiere of a dream had by French artist Philippe Genty
• Echo Trace, from Heather Henson, a work of object dance, light and shadow
• Everyday Uses for Sight: Nos. 3 and 7, a two-part love letter to sight by New York's Dan Hurlin
• Psyche, puppets by Ralph Lee's Mettawee River Theatre Company retell the story of a young princess whose beauty rivaled Venus herself
• Theatre of the Ears, a collage of French avant-garde playwright Valere Novarina's works, never before performed in the United States
• Three Tales of Poe, told by Connecticut's Puppetsweat, this evening of Edgar Allen Poe stories features "MS. Found in a Bottle," "The Man of the Crowd" and "The Tell-Tale Heart"
• India's Prasanna Rao performs hand shadowgraphy, a form of puppetry using only a screen, light and Rao's hands to create people from Churchill to Ghandi as well as a menagerie of animals and things
• Hunchback, Chicago's Redmoon Theatre stages their adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel
• Millennium Autopsy, from renowned Hong Kong theatre director Tang Shu-wing, the story of a doctor who discovers the corpse of his grandfather, a puppeteer who was a victim of the Cultural Revolution
• A Prelude to Faust, a meditation on Faust, through the worlds of Kasper, Faust's comic servant and a modern man named Gilgamesh, as created by Michael Sommers
• Theatre of Light, the return of Rudi Stern's Off-off-Broadway piece
Puppets have long been thought of as a children's medium, of course, and the Henson Festival takes that into consideration. This year's children's fare includes the African-centered Batoto Yetu, the Netherlands' Damiet Van Dalsum, the Cashore Marionette's "Simple Gifts" and "Sleeping Beauty" as told by the Paul Mesner Puppets. The children's programs play at the New Victory Theatre and the Public Theatre Sept. 9-24.
In addition to full length puppetry, there is a puppet cabaret of sorts, Late Night at P.S. 122. The Elementals and Liz Joyce will host these late night evenings of both emerging and established puppeteers. The last two Late Nights will be held Sept. 22 and 23. Tickets to events range from $45-$12. For reservations, call (212) 279 4200. The Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre is on the web at http://www.hensonfestival.org.
Future tour dates include Washington, DC's Kennedy Center (Nov. 8-11), Los Angeles' UCLA Performing Arts Center (Nov. 30-Dec. 3), Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (Nov. 17-19) and Providence's Perishable Theatre (Sept. 19-24).
-- By Christine Ehren