Theater for the New City presents Czechoslovak-American Marionette
Theater in a radical restaging of "Johannes Dokchtor Faust."
Petrifying Puppet Comedye is refashioned from the Old Bohemian by Vit Horejs.
WHERE AND WHEN:
March 21 to April 7, 2019
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at 10th Street) Manhattan
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm
Tickets $18 general admission, $15 seniors and students
Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
This production is intended for audiences aged 6 to 106.
Running time: 80. Critics are invited on or after March 21. (Opens March 21.)
Photos are available at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PQQsLQeFg2jqYKsx7
NEW YORK, February 15 -- From March 21 to April 7, Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., will present Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) in an update of its perennially popular "Johannes Dokchtor Faust, a Petrifying Puppet Comedye," translated and directed by Vit Horejs. This classic of the Czech marionette repertoire is traditionally used to make fun of a king or a local mayor. The company’s adaptation was initially developed in 1990 and its topical references are being updated to the current topsy-turvy political climate.
"Faust," the story of a man who sold his soul to the devil in the quest for ultimate knowledge, has captured the imagination of writers, composers, artists and audiences for over five centuries. In this production, the Faust tale is staged with age-old technical tricks of Czech puppetry, including fire and thunder, hellish gargoyles and underwater creatures. The script is the first definitive American translation of a classic Czech text. The production has become a favorite and quintessential part of CAMT's repertoire.
Deborah Beshaw-Farrell heads the 2019 cast as Mefistofeles, joined by Michelle Beshaw, Vít Horejs, Jane Catherine Shaw and Ben Watts. Melissa Elledge provides accordion accompaniment and Karl Peddler of the acoustic punk duo The Head Peddlers performs on slide guitar.
The main Mephistofeles puppet, 26 inches high and about 100 years old, was fashioned in Kladno, Bohemia by Karel Krob, a mason and shoemaker. There are also three copies of Mephisto, differently-sized, used to make him shrink and grow as he gains and loses power. The puppet of Faust is a copy of a folk puppet originally crafted in a Czech-American community over 200 years ago. This beautiful "naive" work of art would be called a "cobbler marionette"; the expression refers to a puppet any cobbler could make. The balance of the 20-or-so puppets in the show come from the company’s vast collection.
Following the performance on Friday, March 22, beginning about 9:20 PM, there will be a special one-hour reading of Christopher Marlowe's classic "Faust" script, directed by Elizabeth Ruf-Maldonado. Readers will include Crystal Field and other actors of Theater for the New City plus members of the ensemble of "Johannes Dokchtor Faust." Refreshments will be served. Admission is free but donations will be gratefully accepted.
ABOUT THIS VERSION OF "FAUST"
The story of the learned Johannes Faust, who sold his soul for knowledge, was dramatized in Marlowe's "Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (ca. 1589) and Goethe's "Faust" (1780-1833). Marlowe's play is said to have influenced German and Dutch puppeteers, who in turn influenced Czech puppeteers. Czech marionette plays began appearing in the 17th and 18th centuries and "Faust" became a puppet-stage blockbuster. A dozen or more puppeteering families orally passed down their own versions of the play and one version, signed only with the initials A.B., was finally published in Prague in 1862, the same year in which publisher Vilimek issued a not very authentic transcript of Faust attributed to the legendary puppeteer Matej Kopecky. The text by A.B. was adapted into English in 1990 by Vit Horejs; the translation was published by Dilia, Prague in 1993.
In Bohemia, which became the crucible of European puppet tradition, the Faustian legend has been adopted to such a degree that to this day, tourists visit the house of the 15th century printer, Johann Faust, in Prague and talk of the irreparable hole in the ceiling through which the devil carried out the unfortunate magician. This Faust, an early associate of Gutenberg, is easily confused with the scoundrelly magician and astrologer of Wittemberg, upon whom the original German literature is based. The Prague Faust--or Fust-- mass-produced bibles and tried to pass them off as manuscripts. His brilliant red ink was said to be his blood and he was charged with dealing with the devil. To save himself, Fust revealed his secret to the Paris Parliament and his red ink invention became the admiration of the world. Czech lore is probably a blend of these two figures. To support the idea that Faust is "mainstream" to the Czechs, it is often pointed out that the Faustian struggle is prevalent in Václav Havel's writings.
With marionette theater, the Czechs brought commedia to the Faustian canon. They introduced the jester Pimprle (Kasparek) into the story (his appearance in about half of Czech marionette plays inspired the name "Pimprle Theater") as well as three other clown characters: Faust's comic guards, Dumpling and Bigcheeze, and his German valet, Wagner. It is certain that Goethe must have seen such puppet productions of "Faust" as a boy. His own version differs from A.B.'s and most earlier versions in that Goethe's Faust makes a pact with the devil because he genuinely desires to extend the boundaries of his knowledge; in the end he is not damned. In A.B.'s play, he is yanked out to perdition through the ceiling. This exit has been a source of curiosity through the centuries because it seems an indirect route to hell (the floor is closer).
Horejs' English text is about as "literal" as the Czech puppet genre will allow. Czech puppetry has always mocked the authorities and 19th century Czech political jokes would be obscure now. So the text contains passing references to current events that have had to be updated since 1990. Traditional Czech folk satire also requires lots of mocking of their neighbors, the Germans. Horejs felt that German puns would be lost on contemporary New York audiences, so in many places he converted German puns to yiddishisms which, while also obscure, at least retain the flavor of the language and are accessible to some of the audience. Yiddish also helps reinforce the comic effect of the piece, since it is a lingua franca for comedy to Americans.
ABOUT CZECH PUPPET THEATER
The tradition of Czech itinerant puppeteers reaches as far back as the 17th Century. What started as imitation of the earlier English, Italian, and Dutch puppet tradition, in Austrian Empire and Germany, developed into a relationship of mutual influence, with many Austrian, German and Czech companies performing both in Czech and German.
A puppeteering family usually owned a transportable stage, about twenty marionettes, and a set of at least four backdrops: a room, a village, a royal castle, and a forest. In the earlier period, the theater was transported on a wheelbarrow, only later could some afford a cart with a pack horse. For most puppeteers, a box cart with living quarters remained a distant dream.
One performer, usually the "principal" or head of the troupe, produced the voices of all the characters and was also the main puppet operator. The other family members, including children and a maid, helped in every other facet of the performance. Some puppeteers worked in other jobs and trades and took their wooden performers on the road only during the off season. Others supplemented their income by acrobatics, juggling, fire eating, selling patent medicines and stealing poultry.
Since their main goal was entertainment of prevalently adult audiences, itinerant puppeteers presented "chevaleresque" scenes, otherwordly apparitions and other "sensational" themes. They shared these themes and their performance space at village fairs and marketplaces with the immensely popular semi-folk singers of interminably long crime and love songs as described in chap-books and penny dreadfulls. The puppet troupes were by law excluded from performing in large cities. Their peasant audiences, for whom the puppets often presented their only exposure to theater, had to rely on them for information about the life of nobility. But the "high" themes were inevitably invaded by "low" comical characters: the village oaf "Skrhola" ("Dumpling" in this play), dingle-bell clad joker "Kasparek" (Pimprle), etc. Other powerful sources of folk tradition, fairy tales, reached the puppet stages only in the second half of the 19th century after an audience crisis, caused by increased competition and refinement of taste, forced the puppeteers to search for new audiences--children. Plots and fantastic characters (water spirit "Vodnik," who makes a cameo appearance in this play) from the widely known fairy tales joined the always-present kings, knights, princesses, devils, skeletons, necromancers and witches that had populated the puppet stage.
ABOUT CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATER
Vit Horejs, an emigre from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) 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. Horejs is well-known for innovative re-interpretations of classics.
"Johannes Dokchtor Faust" was featured in CAMT's first season (Jan Hus Church, 1990) and was restaged in 1994 as part of NADA's Obie Award-winning "Faust Festival" in Soho. It was revived at La MaMa in 2000.
Theater for the New City has presented CAMT in seven productions. "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" explored the Rosenberg trial with a manipulated set but few puppets. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, "Vit Horejs 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." "Revolution!?" was a collaboration with three performers from Bohemia and Moravia, examining revolutions throughout the history of mankind as a backdrop for the extraordinary peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. "Mr. M" (2011) was the first American stage adaptation of "Mr. Theodore Mundstock" by Ladislav Fuks, a postwar Czech writer of psychological fiction. The production, which continued at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, starred the Grand Dame of Yiddish music scene Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011) in her last major public appearance. In 2013, puppets and live performers enacted an enigmatic tale of early World War II in "King Executioner," written and directed by Vit Horejs, loosely based on "When you are a King, You will be an Executioner" (1968) by the Polish magical realist novelist Tadeusz Nowak (1930-1991). In 2015, the company performed "The Magic Garden, or, The Princess Who Grew Antlers," an ensemble creation that was cheerfully assembled from Czech fairy tales in which antlers appear. Last season, the company introduced "Three Golden Hairs of Grandfather Wisdom" and "The Winter Tales," two plays based on Czech fairy tales.
Vit Horejs writes, "The troupe is excited to return to Crystal Field's theater, a venue which embraces new work and enables performances in innovative styles, like this adaptation, to reach receptive audiences at affordable prices."
Other notable NYC productions include "Golem" (La MaMa, Henson International Puppetry Festival, score by Frank London of the Klezmatics), "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," "Twelve Iron Sandals" and "The Historye of Queen Ester, King Ahasverus and the Haughty Haman." CAMT has performed a "Hamlet" at the Vineyard Theater, in outdoor venues in NYC, and in the Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival in the Lord Chamberlain's Palace Courtyard at Prague Castle. "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 in 2005 and 2006. In January 2007, the company performed "Once There Was a Village," an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London, at La MaMa.
CAMT 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
Melissa Elledge (music) is an accordionist/pianist based in New York. She received her MA from New York University in Piano Performance and soon thereafter began teaching herself the accordion. In 2012, after several years of busking in the subways, she was awarded a coveted spot in the Arts For Transit subway music program, Music Under New York. She has worked in theater, film and VR and has recorded and toured nationally in a variety of musical genres including steampunk, country, and blues. She has organized large-scale all-accordion programs for Make Music New York since 2012 and has been an invited soloist at the prestigious annual American Accordionists Association seminars since 2013. In 2014 she released her first solo CD, "The Bellows Below."
This production is supported by GOH Productions and Theater for the New City. This program has been made possible, in part, with public funds from The National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and Council Member Carlina Rivera. Additional support comes from Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Materials for the Arts, Czech Center NY and private donors.
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Critics are invited on or after March 21.
Photos are available at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PQQsLQeFg2jqYKsx7