Puppets, pastries and a refuge

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, March 1, 2017
The Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre presented its 19th annual Puppets and Pastries Dessert Theatre for Adults Thursday and Friday, Feb. 24-25.

In light of a broken world right outside the closed doors of the Owl Glass Puppetry Center in West Liberty, the night’s performers yearned for family, togetherness and a true home.

This was emphasized by Laura Kittrell as she recalled her time in Chicago during the turn of the 1960s, a time of fear and unknowing… not unlike today.

“Even as a young kid I had a sense that it was a tumultuous time, and there was a lot happening that scared me, frankly, as a child,” she said.

With guitar in hand and her husband Al harmonizing, she began playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” by John Denver, a song that gave her some peace during that time.

By the last time through the chorus everyone had joined in.

The Dessert Theatre is a long running tradition in West Liberty, with its main draw being Tres Leches cake and other delectables thanks to Acapulco Bakery.

But there’s also a sense of community behind it. It’s more than a puppet show to the theater, though puppets played a big role to begin the evening.

Local puppeteer extraordinaire Monica Leo accompanied author, professor and Iowa’s Poet Laureate Mary Swander in a rendition of Swander’s 2009 narrative poem “The Girls on the Roof.”

The series of poems follows a mother and daughter stuck on top of the roof of Crazy Eddy’s Café by the Mississippi River for three days during the great 1993 flood.

Both hilarious and endearing, the puppet show takes some of the key moments from the narrative and brings the piece of fiction to life.

“We have been touring this around for three or four years,” Swander says. “Mostly we’ve gone to the river towns, which has been really fun.”

With a narrator, variety of noise makers, banjo and stacks upon stacks of puppets, it’s a 30-minute long endeavor with tons of moving pieces.

“We had a great time with it, but it’s busy,” adds Swander. “You have to keep your wits about you. It’s sort of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.”

Swander and Leo have been performing the piece for riverside towns including Clinton, Burlington and Davenport. It is, after all, about one of the Mississippi’s greatest disasters.

After the audience had its fair share of cake, wine and camaraderie, the Dessert Theatre took a turn to togetherness through music and the spoken word.

Previous to Puppets and Pastries, some 900 miles away, activist hung a 20 foot banner along the front of the Statue if Liberty that read “Refugees Welcome.”

As Laura and Al Kittrell with Greg Thompson took the stage, they noted the redundancy of the banner since the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus is engraved at the pedestal of the statue.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” reads the piece. The trio performed “Lady of the Harbor,” echoing that feeling.

Always the pinnacle of the evening, Susan Short Gilbert told a story with nothing but the movement of her lips and waiving of her hands.

Entitled “Stuart’s Law,” her latest tale was about the day the FBI opened a file on her, and how that same file has now been open for 50 plus years.

“The thing is, it didn’t scare me away from acting on what I thought was important, and I continued to work against stuff that I didn’t think was fair,” she said.

“What I tell people who are curious, is that you need to fight for what you believe in. It doesn’t matter which side, they just need to get up and do it,” she added.

Per usual, Puppets and Pastries ended with a plenitude of promiscuous songs performed by Monica Leo, Laura Kittrell and Susan Short Gilbert.

And, as the snow fell on the big bad world outside the doors were opened. A few did leave at first, but a majority stuck around to talk and take it all in.

For two night’s the Owl Glass Puppetry Center is a home without borders and beyond beliefs. It’s almost like a haven in the new world, a place where we belong.

Plus, there’s food.
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