The History of Queen Esther, King Ahasverus & Haughty Haman

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Opened Feb 21, 2009
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WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Closely related to the Purim plays that are still enacted every year in Jewish communities around the world, this production for family audiences is based on the traditional script of itinerant Czech puppeteers.  In 18th century Europe, "Queen Ester" was among the top "hits" of the Czech marionette repertoire.  The only theatre truly available in small towns and villages were shows by itinerant puppeteers.  Their plays were a whimsical mixture of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," heroic legends, and rudimentary pre-Shakespearean tragedies. Together with the legend of Golem of Prague it has a crossover folk art theme, emerging from the Czech-Jewish community.Admired by kings, princesses, princes, and philosopher-presidents on five continents, it will now be performed in English for American audiences. Plays with biblical -themes were the oldest in the repertory of Czech Folk Puppeteers, closely followed by related legends and later stories featuring strong individuals (Faust, Don Juan).   Just like Faust, the play about Queen Esther was, probably influenced by companies of English players who performed in Prague and other Czech and Moravian towns from the end of the 16th century through 1620, returning again immediately after 30-year War.  The companies performed a repertoire of plays with live actors and marionettes, besides showing various leaps, dancing bears, fire eating, fencing and other daring feats.  With Ester's theme of wifely obedience, the play is also one of the precursors of "The Taming of The Shrew."    The Czech puppeteers developed their own versions of the plays adding characters like comical peasants, and the jester Kaspárek and his wife Kalupinka, obviously cousins of Punch and Judy.  These itinerant puppeteers were largely illiterate and they traded the plays in their families by word of mouth.  Since folk tradition, whether in plays or tales, usually shows Jews as stock comical characters or worse, this older play is notable for its positive approach to the Jewish theme. Oral transmission of the texts, which was natural in the age of illiterate lower classes, was also the only way of copyright protection, and the puppeteers resisted written recording of their plays.  Shortly after the folk plays were first recorded in the 19th Century, the direct oral transmission began to fade away.   A member of the Maizner family wrote the first manuscripts of "Queen Ester" in the 1820s; it was later combined with other versions of the play. Under Austro-Hungarian, Nazi and Communist domination, Czech puppetry contained pointed political satire by concealing sharp criticism in familiar tales.  Since independence, Czech puppet impresarios have experimented with multimedia effects and shattering illusion by having human actors perform opposite their wooden counterparts.  Stylistically, Vit Horejs falls in with the prominent modernists of this form.  Citing the 1997 production of "Hamlet," Time Magazine (Emily Mitchell) credited Horejs with "uniting the honored tradition with post-modern sensibilities, giving his mute figures from a bygone era a startling new place in the theater."  In the current production of Queen Ester, downtown meets folk tradition.  High and low, live performers and puppets of disparate sizes are blended to a startling comical and sometime touching effect.  The cast of puppets include marionettes designed and constructed by Prague master carver Jakub Krejci, two marionettes composed from household and carpentry tools by Michelle Beshaw and Emily Wilson and giant paper mache puppets made bt CAMT's Associate Director Theresa Linnihan.  

Visit the The History of Queen Esther, King Ahasverus & Haughty Haman website:

http://www.czechmarionettes.org