Vit Horejs, mastermind of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, has for decades been fascinated by Polish author Tadeusz Nowak's magic realist novel "A Jak Krolem a Jak Katem Bedzies" ("When You Are a King, You Will Be An Executioner"). The resulting adaptation is a beautiful pageant with people, marionettes of various sizes and antiquity, scrolling backdrops of villages, lakes, and lovers, and music by Frank London from The Klezmatiks. The story begins in Poland right before World War II. Piotr loves stealing apples, horses, and the hearts of village maidens. There are many lively songs in English and Polish about apples and horses (read: love and lawlessness) and the beautiful absurdity of life. Because these are marionettes being manipulated by skilled puppeteers, sometimes there are some fun tableaux, reminiscent of Marc Chagall's paintings, of peasants floating through the air. Piotr befriends the Jewish musician Moses and, now that there is war, watches the destruction of many Jewish lives. Eventually, Piotr joins the resistance and is compelled to execute his neighbors the postman and police commandant. By the way, the Commandant is represented by a towering head and a pair of shoes which are almost bigger than the puppeteers who, like accomplices, move him about the stage. His fall is quite dramatic. At least Piotr has his mother and two lovers who offer him various kinds of redemption. Besides Vit Horejs, the ensemble includes Christopher Scheer, Joseph Garner, Michelle Beshaw, Theresa Linnihan, Deborah Beshaw-Farrell, and Miles Jackson.
There is a lot of joy in this production. Seeing marionettes thrill to folk dances while their puppeteers jump and roll around is a lot of fun. Jakub Krejci, Milos Kasal and Vaclav Krcal's fine Bohemian marionettes are gorgeous and have a lot of personality. The puppeteers have worked together on many productions over the last twenty years, and are complemented nicely by Jason Candler on clarinet, Nick Gianni on bass, and Hannah Temple on accordion. Theresa Linnihan's costumes hearken back to the simple life of the old country. Of course it's not really a happy story, and like some other amazing literature of the period like "The Painted Bird" it can be difficult to watch the inhumanity of man to man. I hope that this production will result in the viability of an English translation of Nowak's novel.