I went to a puppet show this past weekend. I hope you don’t think I’ve been keeping the life-changing news from you. We went on Sunday, but I wanted to take a few days to digest it. I had first/seen heard about Bob Baker and his little puppets when I saw his theater whilst driving around . I immediately thought – anyone with half a mind is all up in this shit; I have to go, and there I eventually went.
Google research proved fruitful. Come to find the damn thing is kinda popular or at least historic – oldest surviving children’s theater in LA. Dates to the 1920s. LA Historic-Cultural Monument.
I was surprisingly excited about the whole thing. And then we got there.
So this place is kind of in a ghetto. When you’re in LA, you’re never entirely sure when you’re in an actual ghetto. The only time I did know was when I went to a housing project in Boyle Heights. But this didn’t look good. Dirty. Concrete. Peeps hanging out in the parking lot smoking and drinking beers, reclining against the backs of their trucks. It didn’t help that the day was overcast, almost like God had left us to fend for ourselves. A non-descript completely-white brick building with a font-harsh “Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater” painted in black greeted us. There were gates outside, GATES, and the proprietors had clearly painted over the blue graffiti that used to litter the side of the building. Still…I was ready to give it a chance, to give the show a chance, this Halloween Hoop-de-Doo.
But not only was the outside of the theater gloomy, the inside was stuck-in-time, anachronistic in nature, which makes me personally want to die. They had those folding chairs that you find in elementary school, the ones favored by teachers and guidance counselors to keep unruly kids in-line when the student body comes together in the cafeteria to watch a “culturally-relevant film” aka Aladdin. So they have the 1980s chairs. Did I mention the gawdy chandeliers? An attempt at the 20s. And all the red! Date unknown. There was no stage, just a circular block of carpet and stadium seating for the folding chairs. Kiddos littered the side of the carpeted performance space, directly in line with it, sitting criss-cross applesauce in their costumes. Only half the folding chairs were occupied.
Turns out…I had no idea what a marionette was. I mean, I knew it was a puppet. But I thought it was the Mr. Rogers’ kind – not the string kind that you operate from above. Upon first sight of this alleged “puppet,” I had to overhaul my approach to the one-hour show. The show itself? A score playing over the loudspeaker from the 70s telling some kind of narrative. A kid/marionette goes to bed and lands on Mars. Really just a way to make as many weird puppets as possible and pass them off as aliens. And then suddenly it was Halloween and the puppets were glow-in-the-dark and then it was over. It was kind of like Barbarella without the boobies in terms of weirdness and gratuity. Honestly, I spent a good chunk of time figuring out how the male “marionette masters” got dates. They weren’t particularly talented – the five of them, all in their 20s, dressed in all-black so as not to take away from the stars of the show. I felt badly for them.
My favorite part of the entire thing took place after the show was finished, when they announced there was ice cream waiting for us in the room next door. (Interestingly enough, they also had puppets on sale there too. Made in Mexico. Capitalism.). This boss little kid in costume darted up before the announcement was over, running toward said room. The mom had to pull him down by his t-shirt.
And so that was my marionette experience. From it, I took away the most important thing I learned from one Mr. Ricky Gervais – stop something when it’s at the top of its game. Otherwise, it will inevitably, eventually become effing depressing for all involved.