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BWW Review: HALLOWE'EN SPOOKTACULAR: A PUPPET MARVEL at Bob Baker's Marionette Theater

A marvelous "puppet marvel" indeed!

BWW Review: HALLOWE'EN SPOOKTACULAR: A PUPPET MARVEL at Bob Baker's Marionette Theater

I am not from Los Angeles. I have lived here for less than two months, and before that, had not so much as visited. Thus, though it is clearly a beloved cultural gem, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater with its kitschy, retro lobby and fizzy energy holds no sentimental value for me and cannot conjure any fond memories of simpler times. I start with this warning so one does not assume my enjoyment of their current offering, Hallowe'en Spooktacular: A Puppet Marvel! is tainted by preconceived notions or bribed to fruition by my free strawberry ice cream cup. In fact, as I journeyed to the Friday morning matinee in Highland Park, what hung in my mind was not childhood memories but Mark Zuckerberg's creepy and foreboding announcement yesterday of Meta, a new iteration of Facebook which purports to provide virtual opportunities for parties, concerts, and other activities we usually undertake in our corporeal forms. After an evening of pondering the preposterous and depressing prospect of an all-virtual world, BBMT's Spooktacular was a poultice: a reminder that, in no uncertain terms, people of all ages like sitting together in the dark and watching artists engaging in their crafts. Tangibly. Concretely. In physical space.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give to the show is that throughout its hour duration, the pace was so lively and engaging that not a single infant squirmed, cried, or grew restless. Without resorting to cheap schlock or pop culture gimmicks, parents and other adults were equally delighted. Crowd favorites included a tribute to Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein with two puppets performing "Puttin' on the Ritz" and an oversized black cat shimmying to "I Want to be Evil" a la Eartha Kitt. However, with a grumpy jack-o-lantern, a parade of robots, and a love ballad between vampires, it is hard to narrow down to a "best part" of this performance.

Here's why it works and why BBMT will continue to thrive in a world with or without Zuckerberg's virtual offerings: The whole event is suffused with gratitude for the craft which allows it to happen, but the craftspeople who brought the show to life selflessly bow out and let the work shine for itself. There is no vying for attention from the team of black-clad puppeteers who valiantly (and quite literally) carry the show. Their expressions remain neutral and their attention redirects wandering eyes to the stars- those contraptions of wood, wire, and clay being flung around the stage on strings. Ceylon Baginski, a puppeteer entrusted with many of the most intricate and deceptively simple moments in the show is able to breathe life into every character she operates, though the puppeteers as a collective almost seem to be holding their breath, aware of the weighty sacredness of their role. Apart from a state of the art LED lighting system which punctuates the performances beautifully, the whole experience feels like a journey back in time to the American vaudeville or English music hall, a sort of harkening back to an idealized past that none of us witnessed but have been told about for generations. The folks at BBMT have clearly taken their silliness seriously, and thus an hour's frivolous joy is assured as they have perfected the art, science, and engineering of keeping us captivated in a revue.

To a young child, a puppet is a living, breathing entity, and this performance never belies that understanding. Meanwhile, grown-ups may applaud the impossibility of 32 neon ghosts dancing under UV lights controlled by one puppeteer and, in that moment, it seems that all present in the theatre are in awe of the same simple magic.

Though the Spooktacular is closing soon, check out more upcoming offerings from the Bob Baker Marionette Theater here.

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From This Author - Andrew Child