The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's production of The Bass Saxophone, an adaptation by director Vit Horejš of the story by Josef Skvorecky, is a great summer entertainment. It has wit for adults and charm for children, and there's breezy jazz, too.
The site-specific staging takes place outside and then inside Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Memorial Arch. For the first 15 minutes, it is an outdoor performance of "decadent Judeo-Negroid music," in the words of Joseph Goebbels, including "St. James' Infirmary" sung in Czech. The play is set in 1944, when the Germans were occupying Czechoslovakia and Goebbels had outlawed jazz. Danny (Alan Barnes Netherton), a swing-obsessed teen, helps carry an enormous bass saxophone up the stairs of an old hotel for a broken-down traveling German jazz band.
The audience then follows. Don't wear stilettos and don't look down -- there are colorful tableaux on the landings to help you conquer your fear of heights. Up top is a small theatre space, with a canopy bed functioning as the puppet theatre. The band's bass saxophone player lies unconscious, and they coax Danny to play.
For the rest of the evening, the characters reminisce about life before the war: A chess lover remembers a girlfriend who wore a checkered dress to get his attention, an old lady recalls the church bells in her village, and Danny remembers studying German before it was the language of the enemy. The performers are a bit uneven -- Netherton mumbles distractingly -- but Steven Ryan and Theresa Linnihan (the company's associate director) are particularly versatile and expressive.
And there is the wonderful music, played by John Hyde and Colin Stetson.
Horejš has done an exceptional job of theatricalizing Skvorecky's vision with puppets, which were made for the company by Miloš Kasal in the Czech Republic. With substance and style, The Bass Saxophone is a summer treat.
Presented by GOH Productions as part of the Puppetry at the Arch Festival
at the Grand Army Plaza Memorial Arch, Eastern Parkway and Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NYC.
May 27-June 25. Sat., 2 and 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 5 p.m.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.