Tuesday, January 18th, was opening night in Central Park, although it wasn’t Shakespeare in the Park or the Metropolitan Opera on the Great Lawn it was a gala event complete with opening night jitters and post production reception. That it also included flying saucers, lovesick sea beasts and line-kicking gnomes is a tribute to the efforts of the City Parks Foundation which commissioned this brilliantly inventive and entertaining marionette show at the Swedish Cottage in Central Park.
The story is real enough – recounting the circuitous journey of the Swedish Cottage from its native land in 1877 to Philadelphia, and then on to Central Park. But through the imagination of puppeteers Tom Lee and Matthew Acheson the story also includes technologically advanced gnomes, undersea adventures and space travel; all told in an amusingly meta-textual narrative style. Combined with film clips and a surprisingly sophisticated musical track (at one point a gnome appears downstage to play a soulful trumpet solo) the play is always engaging. It also manages to smoothly straddle that divide between the simple joys of a children’s puppet show and the subtle humor that will keep every generations of theater goers entertained through the spring.
(Through June 30.) regular performances Tuesday through Thursday at 10:30 a.m. and noon, with an additional performance on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.; 79th Street and the West Drive, Central Park , (212) 9889093, cityparksfoundation.org/swedish_cottage.html; $8; $5 for under 12. Reservations required.