Puppets, pussycats, soldiers and spiders will all be taking center stage in various metro Jackson theaters this month. Puppet master Peter Zapletal is directing the "Hansel and Gretel" puppet show, which runs April 15-17 at Millsaps College. Featuring music, fairy-tale sets, live actors and carefully crafted puppets, the show should prove to be something of a spectacle. The Hansel and Gretel characters are four-foot-tall puppets; the Sandman is a larger-than-life, seven-foot-tall puppet. Playing opposite the fantastical puppets are Millsaps students, portraying the witch and Hansel and Gretel's parents.
"This is no ordinary puppet show," Zapletal emphasizes. "It's so much more. It's theater—and it's magical. When the witch entices the children, invisibly maneuvered cakes and candies fly around the stage. Talented actors interact with these incredible puppets, and the audience really becomes part of it all." Inspired by the German folk tale of the same name, "Hansel and Gretel" is also being billed as an appropriate cultural connection and fitting complement to the "Glory of Dresden" exhibit.
"Hansel and Gretel" is not the only puppetry Jackson will see this spring. Zapletal is also the artistic director of Puppet Arts Theater, which will be traveling throughout Mississippi and the surrounding areas. Puppet Arts Theater will be bringing their traveling show "Carnival of the Animals" to Jackson for a one-day run on Saturday, May 1, at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
Targeted for audiences ages 4 through adult, the puppet shows seek to draw a wide demographic. Zapletal, who also serves as the special projects director for the Mississippi Puppetry Guild, conveys a giddy joy when discussing his work as a puppeteer: "I like working in puppet theater because we, the puppeteers, can create a new reality where everything plays by our rules. Our audiences use their imagination, accept and enjoy the show."
So if puppetry's your bag, that's covered here in central Mississippi. What about the pussycats, soldiers and spiders?
This month's theater offerings also include Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats," the latest in the "Best of Broadway" series presented at Thalia Mara Hall. The touring musical will be in town two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 20-21.
Allergic to "Cats"? Maybe you prefer spiders: "Charlotte's Web" awaits at the Madison County Cultural Center. Madison Center Players present E.B. White's tale of "some pig" April 29-May 2. New Stage offers up "The Drawer Boy." Michael Healy's play explores what happens when two farmers, veterans of World War II and lifelong friends, are observed by a young actor wanting to research their lives for his play about farming. "The Drawer Boy" runs at New Stage May 4-16.
As always, more information on these theater happenings and all other happenings is available on the JFP Lounge List. Scope out the Jackson theater scene this month for yourself; it's your call whether or not there are any strings attached.
Beth Kander is an actor and a theater writer for the JFP.