The current offering at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater--"The Elves and the Shoemaker," courtesy of one of the Brothers Grimm's least satisfying fables--is particularly well-suited to the holiday season. With the exception of a Christmas tree that lights up 20th-century-style, the production by the Puppet House Players of Frankfort, Ky., maintains the essentially old-fashioned aura of the original story--a musty cobbler's shop, 18th-century German dress and the timeless philosophy about the joy of giving.
Of course, there's also the old saw about looking a gift horse in the mouth--in this case, it's the shoemaker who can't figure out who is sneaking into his shop at night to make the beautiful shoes that everybody in town suddenly wants; the title, of course, precludes suspense. The hand puppets, manipulated by the mother-and-daughter team of Mary Alexander Hume and Alice Hume, move in a manner reminiscent of stop-motion animation. The story itself follows the Grimm formula, with the only conceit being elf talk, which sounds like pre-verbal Donald Duck.
The only problem with the performance is its running time (close to an hour). There's a cute but overly long opening bit in which a puppet is constructed on a hand, but it's an exhibition that could easily come after the play as part of the audience questioning. It may be intended as a bridge between the real and fantasy worlds, but that's a bridge crossed in the blink of an idea by most children.
Performances at the Discovery Theater in the Arts and Industries Building are at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday through next Sunday.