'After an evening with puppets doing a condensed, fast-moving, spoken dramatization of Wagner's "Ring" Cycle, one begins to wonder whether this show loses something in the original. "The Ring of the Nibelungs," presented last night and repeated tonight in the Eisenhower Theater by a group from the University of Connecticut, transports the audience into a make-believe world of dragons, dwarfs, giants and beautiful Valkyries with a charm that is unavailable either to human actors or to animated film.
The show takes 2 1/2 hours, about one-seventh of Wagner's length, at the cost of simplifying the story just a bit, trimming or eliminating the monologues, using spoken dialogue and only occasional small snippets of the music. The loss of the music (at least, some of it) is felt, but the puppet show remains an absorbing and charming evening's entertainment.
Puppets, the center of attention this week at the Kennedy Center, are a medium apart from all others. It takes a while to get used to them, and at the beginning of this "Ring" (or "Ringlet"), with puppet fish swimming around while the Rhine maidens taunt Alberich, it threatens to be a bit too cutesy -- like an ambitious, "cultural" children's television show.
But before long, you forget that the lines are being spoken by five blackclad humans seated at the side of the stage, that the "actors" are inanimate objects maniuplated by visible rods, that the spectacular background effects are the result of projections on a screen. You are too busily absorbed in the meanness of Alberich, the blundering of Wotan, the hopeless love of Siegfried and Sieglinde to be bothered with such details.
The show is superbly cast with a wealth of puppets -- particularly lavish in a scene between Brunnhilde and the Valkyries. As in live drama, the animals sometimes steal the scenes from the humans, notably Brunnhilde's horse, Grane, who prances most realistically. Somewhere between the humans and the animals, there is a unique appeal in the frost giants. Fasolt and Fafner, who seem to have a few Cookie Monster chromosomes somewhere in their ancestry.