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In Paris, Take a Puppet Break

By Kira Marchenese
The Washington Post
Sunday, December 27, 1998; Page E04

You brought the kids to Paris? Hmm. Well, if the impressionists and cubists don't hold their attention, you might try introducing them to Guignol.

This charming Frenchman is a marionette who inserts himself into traditional tales. You'll find him in parks around Paris, alongside "The Three Little Pigs" and other favorites. The shows, called guignols, are not the place to expose your kids to high French culture. But the well-worn theaters and the puppets' histrionics offer a fun peek at what happens when French culture takes a break and heads to the park on a sunny afternoon.

The cranked-up soundtracks are in French, but parents of English-speaking children find that Guignol connects across the language barrier. Parents can help explain the action, unless children opt to sit on the benches way up front reserved for les petits enfants. During the show, these rows turn into a chorus shrieking "Oui!" or "Non!" in response to Guignol's questions.

The half-baked story lines won't be completely foriegn to American kids, and that's part of the charm. For example, in Guignol's retelling of "Pinocchio," the misbehaving marionette must recite the alphabet before he can become a boy. He needs several tries, and all the help the shouting, bouncing children can give him. American children should recognize the alphabet and some counting, and will have fun trying to mimic the not-quite-familiar sequences.

In another "It's a Small World" moment, beware that commercialism also translates quite well. Theater staff use the brief intermission to hawk overpriced souvenirs and snacks.

Paris has nearly a dozen marionette theaters. The indoor theater at the Jardin de Luxembourg is a good choice because of its location in a sprawling park near other child-friendly attractions: a playground with bridges, tunnels and ladders adults will envy, toy boat rental, crepes filled with gooey, chocolatey Nutella, and public toilets. Or try the Marionettes de Champs-Elysees at Rond-Point de Champs-Elysees.

Guignols are held mostly on afternoons when there is no school, and cost about $4 a person. Pariscope Magazine, available for about 50 cents at Parisian newsstands, is the best source for accurate schedules, locations and shows, or call tourist information at 011-33-1-49-52-53-54.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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