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July is the perfect time to visit the New York Puppet Library - a cool, bewitching space that’s actually located inside the arch in Grand Army Plaza - because Brooklyn families will be able to enjoy two charming puppet shows there this month.

The Puppet Library hosts delightful shows for all ages, and on Saturday afternoons, it opens its collection of large and small puppets to the public, who are invited to browse and borrow.

You won’t find Big Bird, Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob at the New York Puppet Library. Instead there’s an extraordinary assembly of original, handmade creatures, characters and animals - from parade puppets to masks to marionettes - littering the landings and bunched along the railings of the spiral staircase leading up to the loft-like performance space atop the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Arch. It’s a climb that casts a spell of enchantment, as each corkscrew turn creates a new vista of fantasies.

Theater in miniature

On July 1 and 8, "Ting!," the story of an inept matchmaking angel, will come to the tiny theater. Rolande Duprey, the artistic director of Purple Rock Productions Puppet Company in Hartford, Conn., spent two years developing the one-woman show, in which hand puppets at times operate their own small marionettes, a metaphor for human relationships.

Most of us will identify with the angel Ting, who can’t fly, can’t play the harp, and lives in a "confusing world of random junk and chaotic, unfinished assignments she has either forgotten to do or left aside." Ting’s "hidden talent," as hinted by the show’s press materials, is an ability to encourage love - all kinds of love. The play is "almost fully nonverbal," says Duprey, and uses music and pantomime to tell the story of Ting’s "mission of bringing two lovers together."

"She starts out inept, and [is] kicked out of the band [of angels] for not being able to play instruments," Duprey told GO Brooklyn. "She consistently encounters obstacles, and through a series of episodes, she discovers how love transforms her."

"Ting!" will be preceded by a short performance by Adelka Polak, featuring large angel and demon puppets. Although all ages are welcome to attend "Ting!," younger children may not be able to follow the complex narrative, so Duprey recommends the show for ages 12 through adult.

If you’re looking for something to do with wee folk, they’ll be enchanted by "P. T. Widdle’s Suitcase of Wonders," a toy theater magic show for all ages by Peter Ross appearing at the Memorial Arch on July 22 and 29. The show features Smallini, the world’s tiniest magician, who will perform feats of legerdemain, like levitating a doll and making a four-inch elephant disappear!

Illusionist Ross delighted audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO last year when he performed his miniature magic show as part of the Great Small Works Seventh International Toy Theater Festival. His nostalgic handbill lists tricks with names like "The Living Skull," "Spooky Rabbit" and "Water Torture Cell," an homage to Houdini. The audience is further advised that "conversation is permitted between tricks."

Theresa Linnihan, head librarian at the Puppet Library, told GO Brooklyn, "We saw [Ross] at the Toy Theater Festival, and his show was just charming." He was booked for the Memorial Arch space for that August, and returns this summer with an updated version of the show.

"I have a new Egyptian-themed illusion, ’The Mummy’s Journey,’ " says Ross, "and another new trick called ’Marie Antoinette.’ " Ross, by day a computer teacher at Columbia Prep, also gives magic lessons and workshops in Brooklyn, along with partner Howard Rappaport, with whom he co-founded "Park Slope Magic" to promote the thaumaturgic arts in the community.

Hidden treasures

The New York Puppet Library is a well-kept secret, perhaps because of an unusual location, which from appearances should hold nothing more than bats and a few spare light bulbs for the parks department maintenance crew. But the Library houses many wonderful hand-carved Czechoslovakian marionettes, originally discovered 20 years ago in a Manhattan church.

The antique marionettes are kept preserved, but "if anyone wants to see them, we’ll be happy to take them out of their bags," says librarian Linnihan.

The library’s collection also includes newer puppets, such as the figure of Haman in a guillotine-like wheeled chair, ornamented with dragon heads. Operated by a system of pulleys and mechanical gears, the chair is "a contraption that was builtfor a slapstick version of the Book of Esther," says Linnihan. "You should see it in action: the dragons on the chair move, and [Haman’s] chair rises up with him as the villain rises in power."

Although the Grand Army Plaza, where the Central Library meets the gateway to Prospect Park, is a popular destination, it’s a bit intimidating crossing the busy traffic circle, and requires some caution. Still, the chance to see the arch and its celebrated Beaux Arts sculptures up close, is itself worth the trouble.

While you’re waiting for the show to begin, you can cool off with a stroll by the nearby Bailey Fountain and enjoy its refreshing plumes of water. A picturesque cluster of mythical and allegorical art nouveau statuary, the fountain was restored in 2004 at a cost of $1.5 million, and makes an ideal photo backdrop.

All told, the New York Puppet Library has seven more shows in store for puppet-lovers this season, which runs from May through October. There will be pageants, plays, live music and magic, culminating with a "Try-on-a-Puppet Halloween Extravaganza." Don’t miss the chance to explore this fabulous cultural treasure in the heart of Brooklyn..


"Ting!" will be performed Saturday July 1 and 8, at 2 pm and 7 pm and "P. T. Widdle’s Suitcase of Wonders" will be performed July 22 and 29 at 2 pm at The New York Puppet Library in the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza. The puppet library is open Saturdays, from noon to 4 pm, from May to October. There is a $10 suggested donation for performances, and $5 donation suggested for the library itself. For more information, call (718) 853-7350.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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