When ballet companies present Fokine's "Petrushka," dancers are challenged by the nearly impossible task of pretending to be puppets who are pretending to be human. Dezso Szllagyi's adaptation of this tale of love and strife among carnival puppets, which the Hungarian State Puppet Theatre presented last night at the Eisenhower, had all the color and bustle of the famous Diaghilev production and no less drama -- although the principal actors were, of course, puppets.
The Hungarian's troupe's "Puppets-Masks-Men," a program of pantomimes and ballets, proved not only that puppets can do just about anything people can, but also that theater can be magical and sophistcated without visible human participation.In Beckett's "Act Without Words," a puppet mime managed to convey all the boredom and frustration required of him -- one could even see him think. In "Adventures," to a creakng, howling Ligeti score, a man's suit played fast and loose with the affections of two rather giddy ladies -- a woman's red wig and a hat-and feather-boa combination -- with hilariously disastrous consequences.
A puppet poodle -- the hero of the evening -- enlivened "Classical Symphony" (Prokofiev's) by jumping on the stage of the pantomime-within-a-pantomime to chase a cat. Not content with disrupting the proceedings, he finished the act by attacking the conductor and "overthrowing" his princely master.
Although obviously designed to please adult tastes, the program also delighted the children, who made up nearly half the audience. "Puppets-Mask-Men" will be repeated this afternoon and evening.