It's fitting that the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater is celebrating the Halloween season with performances of "The Witching Hour" by the Clarion Puppet Theatre. The show consists of three extended scenarios, bookended by a pair of brief visual skits. Clarion uses several different kinds of puppetry in the show: "Wizards" and "The Ghastly Baby" rely on hand-and-rod puppets, while "In Peril of Witches" makes stunning use of the 2,000-year-old tradition of shadow puppets. The show is performed in pantomime, beautifully augmented by the heroic music of Edvard Grieg, Bernard Hermann and John Barry.
"Wizards" is the oft-told tale of the sorcerer's apprentice conjuring up bellicose skeletons and lumbering Cyclopses while trying to master an unruly and sometimes out-of-hand magic wand. "The Ghastly Baby" is somewhat unsettling, a bit of Mother Goose morality retold with Ambrose Bierce-like ferocity, its macabre motivations jarring after the mystery and magic of "The Witching Hour."
"In Peril of Witches," however, is brilliant, using an overhead projector, scene cards and a roller bar to create an illusion of depth, movement and metamorphoses not only for the witch in pursuit of a princess, but for the detailed scenery they and the heroic prince constantly glide through. The exquisite cutout shadow figures are manipulated in a way that suggests primitive film techniques, while the projected images are so full of life and color that the unveiling of their proper perspective at show's end is a mind-blower.
Performances of "The Witching Hour" are Wednesday through Friday at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The show is not recommended for very young children (under 4), only because it is so effective.
Adventure Theatre at Glen Echo is mounting a production of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," adapted by Madge Miller. The10-scene play is a bit word-heavy and lacking in motion to hold an audience of young, therefore restless, minds. Melanie Metzger, a very assured 18-year-old, is quite good as Alice, wide-eyed where she needs to be and resilient amid the general inconstancy of Wonderland. Most of the other actors and actresses acquit themselves well, though Hugh Pettigrew's King of Hearts is interpreted in a dreadful monotone that apparently escaped director Jill Metzger's attention.
This adaptation is built around the theft of tarts from the Queen of Hearts, with stops at the Duchess' kitchen, the Cheshire Cat's forest, the Mad Hatter's tea party, the Queen's croquet match and trial. There is no dearth of familiar action or setting. "Alice in Wonderland" will run Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 3 p.m. through November 8.