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FOR THE KIDS : Pocket Opera : The acclaimed Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia brings its traveling puppet show 'Puss in Boots' to Port Hueneme.


They sure don't make puppet shows the way they used to.

That's probably what you'll think when you take the kids to see "Puss in Boots" Nov. 6 at Port Hueneme's Dorill B. Wright Cultural Center.

This is no Punch and Judy show. But then, there is nothing else like the acclaimed Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia, a traveling puppet theater that has been around for 21 years.

For openers, instead of hiding, the puppeteers are visible to the audience, and they interact with the puppet characters. They dress in costume and talk and sing along with the puppets.

"We don't pretend they are not there," said Elizabeth Fajta, tour manager for the theater group.

Fajta calls the production a "pocket opera," because it is packed with music. All the characters and puppets sing. The music, provided by guitar, banjo, kazoo and mouth organ, has a folksy flavor.

If your memory needs jogging, "Puss in Boots" is the childhood classic about a character named Tom, a miller's son who inherits nothing from his father's estate but a cat. As it turns out, the cat is a clever character who helps Tom win the princess and other riches.

"Puss in Boots" is the second in a new series offered this season by the cultural center called "Kids Kollage." After this production, the next offering is a performance Jan. 17 by Kim and Reggie Harris in "One Planet--One Family," billed as a musical-storytelling show that "explores the world of garbage."

Mermaid Theatre has been performing "Puss in Boots"--with its three actors and eight puppets--throughout Canada for the last two years. The current tour brings them into Washington, Oregon and California. Three years ago the troupe performed "Just So Stories" at the Los Angeles Music Center.

This production is directed by Jim Morrow, who studied with primo puppeteer Jim Henson of "Sesame Street" fame. Morrow is co-designer of the show with Vickie Marston.

The set looks like a castle of long ago. It has movable units and actually opens up for a view of the castle's interior. The whole thing, 20 feet across by 15 feet deep, folds up and can be packed into the group's van.

The puppets are child-sized, about three feet tall. Not marionettes, these guys are operated by rods. In the humorous musical number, "Purr-fect Cat," Puss is actually manipulated by three puppeteers at once.

The puppets are a story in themselves. Made of carved Styrofoam covered with glue and gauze, they are constructed in the theatre's workshop by a crew of puppet makers who build them for other groups as well.

Judging by the reactions of children, the characters are real, Fajta said. They always scream a warning to Puss when the ogre appears.

The show lasts about 50 minutes. Fajta recommends it for children ages 5 and older.


Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia will present its puppet show, "Puss in Boots," Nov. 6, at 7 p.m., at Dorill B. Wright Cultural Center, 575 Surfside Drive, Port Hueneme. Tickets are $7 and available at the door. To order by phone, call 986-6598.

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