Darlings, I must admit that puppets and clowns have always given me the royal willies. The very idea that these things are supposed to provide wholesome entertainment is bizarre and entirely unfounded, to say the least. My god, hasn't everyone seen that horrid movie with that bloodthirsty ventriloquist's dummy? That half-pint horrorshow gave me nightmares for a week!

However, I don't want to be a prisoner of puppet-fear forever, loves. For that reason, I pleaded with my husband, the Filthy Critic, to accompany me to a performance of "The Emperor's New Clothes" at the Denver Puppet Theatre. I figured that if I could survive the gruesome sight of a naked puppet, I could survive anything. Initially, Filthy received my request with distaste and tried to bow out, saying that he didn't want to be any part of a cockamamie marionette therapy session. His language was actually a bit saltier than that. Anyway, I told him I would pay his way, and he relented. Let me tell you, mes amis, that three dollars was well spent!

Last Sunday, we drove out to northwest Denver to the Denver Puppet Theatre, which resides in a festive yellow building with large blue cutouts of puppets on the walls. The parking lot was full when we arrived; already, I was beginning to understand that I am not in the majority when it comes to my feelings about puppets. Indeed, hordes of kids were frolicking without an ounce of trepidation. Dearies, I knew then that I would have to control myself and endure the entire show without a peep.

Interestingly, the show isn't the only attraction of the Denver Puppet Theatre. I was surprised to see a peaceful garden courtyard, featuring picnic tables and a stately fountain, just inside the gate. The Puppet Theatre also exhibits a global gallery of less ominous puppets- Bavarian boys with liederhosen, horse marionettes from Turkey and India, ornate monsters from Bali and Sri Lanka, "trash dogs" and puppets constructed from recycled cardboard from the U.S. of A. They also sell puppets here, and the local weekly paper voted the shop, "The Best Place in Denver to Buy Puppets". So, sweeties, if you want your own piece of evil for home or office, this is the place to visit.

The theatre opens a half hour before the show, so that kids can try a little bit of puppet magic on their own. The tickets for the show are rudimentary paper puppets on coffee stirrer sticks, and the youthful audience is encouraged to decorate them however they please with the magic markers and crayons available in the back of the theatre. There are also mini-theatres and a wide array of puppets for the children with which to experiment. I noticed that the kids tend to place their puppets in situations involving either pummelling or yelling.

Finally, the lights dimmed, and a portly, bespectacled man came out to make some important announcements in a singsong voice. First, he wished Sara a happy birthday; she was celebrating the achievement of the venerable age of five and a half. Shy Sara endured the attention, but had to resort to hair-chewing to keep her composure. After that, the master of ceremonies had everyone show off their decorated puppets. Then, he got down to the nitty gritty. The audience was required to pull on "imagination hats" and to affix themselves to their seats with a mystery substance called "puppet glue". The latter concept seemed rather grisly to me; is it a substance made from the ground-up bones of dead puppets?

The performance of "The Emperor's New Clothes" was extremely interactive, maybe more than the puppeteers desired. Even with "puppet glue", kids just can't sit and watch a show like adults do. I mean, my hubby often talks to the movies he's reviewing, but he keeps his angry muttering to a low volume. When the play's mouse narrator tried to set up the scene, these audience members were determined to converse loudly. Some of the favorite topics were "I can see your ears (or arms or tail or rear)!" or "I have a puppet!" When the Emperor showed off his fashion sense, one child was pretty vocal about her disdain and roared with indignation, "Those are girls' clothes!" But, the puppeteers labored on, taking all of this in stride.

At one point, the Puppet Theatre's resident cat, Emily, made an impromptu cameo while the mouse was describing what a clothes-slut the Emperor was. The kids frantically tried to warn the mouse, who seemed pretty nonchalant about the situation until one lone voice of reason piped up, "Mice HATE cats!" Whenever Emily padded through the theater after that, the audience's attention dissolved into excitable concern. The mouse was forced to quake visibly each time to appease the worried tots. Finally, someone had to corral Emily; she was stealing the show, poor dear.

And when the oblivious Emperor made his half-naked entrance, I thought there was going to be a kiddie riot. And, the atmosphere only became more tense each time the Emperor encouraged the audience to admire his invisible duds. Several girls, incoherent with shock, just shrieked at the tops of their lungs. The Emperor slumped off the stage and the show was quickly brought to a close. Lucky for us all, the kids recovered quickly.

So did I. The puppets had lumpy, misshapen faces, sure, and the story left out much of importance, but I worked through my fear enough to enjoy the audience shenanigans. The Puppet Theatre staff really try to make the experience fun and creative for kids, and they have accumulated an impressive and educational collection of puppets. They also tell a mean knock-knock joke. If only marionettes weren't so icky....

This show is over, but others are coming. For more info:
The Denver Puppet Theatre
3156 West 36th Ave, Denver, CO 80211
Showtimes and other information: 303 458 6446
email: Denver Puppet Theater

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