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Join the small world of festival toy fun

June 09, 2008|Lynne Heffley

Theater in a match box. On a tabletop. Paper actors on a teeny proscenium stage.

Toy theater, not primarily child's play, dates back to early 19th century England and is enjoying a resurgence of interest. Audiences can take a look this weekend in Disney Concert Hall at the Music Center's "Toy Theatre Festival" for families, and at an adult event in Disney's REDCAT space.

The free family festival, aimed at ages 6 and up, takes place during the day throughout Disney on Saturday and Sunday. It showcases professional toy theater artists from around the world in nearly 80 performances, plus student productions and family workshops.

REDCAT's evening adjunct festival, with a fee for admission, features adult-oriented versions of some Music Center-commissioned festival shows and a film screening.

Saturday's lineup includes Laura Heit's tiny "Matchbox Shows" and miniature epics from noted Mexican puppeteer Alejandro Benitez and leading American toy theater company Great Small Works as well as "The Alphabet Show," created by Paul Zaloom of zany "Beakman's World," and Cornerstone Theater Company co-founder Lynn Jeffries.

"Alphabet" offers God as a Borscht Belt magician, a little John McCain, a little Joe Lieberman and ad spoofs for drugs, Zaloom says, while the kid-friendly daytime version's vignettes include a duke-out between caloric heavyweights Cinnabon and McDonald's Quarter Pounder with cheese.

On Sunday night at REDCAT, a modern-day, graphic novel-style toy theater film adaptation of "Dante's Inferno," co-written by Zaloom and voiced by Dermot Mulroney, James Cromwell and others, will be screened.

"As puppeteers we're lucky because we can do anything," Zaloom says. "We can make people fly, burn things up, throw things out the window -- I think that's what appeals to us. We can create little worlds and do anything we want. Maybe we're just megalomaniacal."

-- Lynne Heffley

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