It’s not easy being green. In City of Frogs, Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s spectacular 13th annual giant puppet pageant for children of all ages, the Triangle-based puppet designers, builders, and manipulators and a frisky Paperhand Band embark on an epic musical journey to save the title characters from being systematically exterminated by greedy Capitalists, who hope to urbanize the bulrushes that the frogs call home. If you are green with a capital G, this ecological message musical will hit a responsive chord.
City of Frogs, written and directed by Paperhand co-founder Jan Burger, with assistance from his fellow co-founder Donovan Zimmerman, is not just a propaganda piece. It mixes political points with a snippet from a European fairy tale and Jewish and North American folklore. Its protagonist is a puppet boy very much like Pinocchio, who is freed from his puppeteer when the Scissors of Fate sever the ties that bind them. Thereafter, the wooden city Boy then sets out to help a Girl born from an acorn reclaim her heart from the shape-shifting Man of Beasts.
Along the way, the Boy and the Girl meet a three-toed tree-loving Cricket, a Rabbi and the Golem that he creates out of river mud, etc. They endure all sorts of privations — in the city and in the country — before the obligatory happy ending inspires Paperhand fans to spring to their feet to salute this year’s pageant with a standing ovation. But, wait, the show is not over yet. There is a coda, performed by ingeniously designed and cinematically manipulated shadow puppets, that reiterates the main points of City of Frogs.
This performance-ending shadow-puppet play may be a Paperhand trademark, but it tests the endurance of audience members who have ignored the threat of thunderstorms and have been politely sitting outdoors on the unyielding stone benches of the Forest Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But at its best City of Frogs is so visually enthralling, with several jaw-dropping scenes with giant puppets like a Fellini movie come to life in the Heart of Carolina, that it is simply not to be missed.
Paperhand Puppet Intervention is a cultural treasure of the Old North State, and Tarheels should turn out in droves whenever and wherever the Paperhand puppeteers are performing their left-wing political parables. Even when the plot is extremely convoluted, as the story of City of Frogs is, the irrepressible puppeteers and musicians of Paperhand Puppet Intervention make each scene invigorating. Bravo!
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 15th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/paperhand-delivers-the-puppets-in-a-clumsy-ecological-tale/Content?oid=3126863; and Aug. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Kristin Collins: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/09/2254817/the-best-family-picks-aug-10.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of Triangle Theater Review’s Aug. 10th preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/08/paperhands-13th-summer-pageant-city-of-frogs-features-giant-puppets-masks-stilts-and-live-music/.)
Paperhand Puppet Intervention presents CITY OF FROGS at 6:20 p.m. preshow and 7 p.m. show Aug. 24-26 and Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 2:20 p.m. preshow and 3 p.m. show and 6:20 p.m. preshow and 7 p.m. show Sept. 2, 6:20 p.m. preshow and 7 p.m. show Sept. 3 and Sept. 7 and 8, and 2:20 p.m. preshow and 3 p.m. show and 6:20 p.m. preshow and 7 p.m. show Sept. 9 at the Forest Theatre at the corner of Cameron Ave. and Country Club Rd. on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus; and 6:20 p.m. preshow and 7 p.m. show Sept. 14-16 at the N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
Chapel Hill: $12 ($8 children 4-12 and children 3 and under get in free).
Raleigh: $15 ($10 NCMA Members, $7.50 children 3-12, and children 2 and under get in free).
Chapel Hill: Tickets sold at the door.
Raleigh: 919-715-5923 or http://www.etix.com/.
OPENING ACTS: http://paperhand.org/?page_id=462.
Forest Theatre: http://ncbg.unc.edu/forest-theatre/ (directions: http://www.ibiblio.org/wideawake/where/index.html and map: http://www.unc.edu/tour/LEVEL_2/forestm.htm).
N.C. Museum of Art: http://www.ncartmuseum.org/visit/plan_your_visit/ (directions/map: http://maps.google.com/).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.