Arts & Entertainment

Glen Echo Park “Rumpelstiltskin” Puppets Entertain Young and Old

By Mark Dreisonstok

Wendell the Rabbit, reminding us in this spring season of the Easter Bunny, beside the spinning wheel of the miller’s daughter, who is tasked with using her wheel to “spin straw into gold.”

Many of us are familiar with Glen Echo Park as a place to relax with friends as we enjoy good food on the picnic tables in front of the Spanish Ballroom.  Glen Echo, a former amusement park with its unique Art Deco-style architecture, is also where children enjoy rides on the historic 1921 Dentzel carousel 

 In the arcade section, the park’s resident puppet theater performs stories that include fairy tales (or, as they are known in German, the “The Children’s and Household Tales”) of the Brothers Grimm.    They have done so again with “The Fantastic Tale of Rumpelstiltskin,” a Grimm tale re-written for the Puppet Co. by Stoph Scheer and directed by Liz Dapo.  The tale is told following many of the traditional plot elements and motifs which have delighted children for centuries.  Yet to the rustic setting of the Grimms’ text (“by the side of a wood, in a country a long way off, ran a fine stream of water; and upon the stream there stood a mill”) are added references to the spring season: “Morning Mood” music from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt,” flowers, a puppet butterfly, and a rabbit who reminds us very much of the Easter Bunny (seen next to the spinning wheel of the miller’s daughter, who is pressed with the impossible task spinning straw into gold). 

 As in the Grimm story, “the king was very fond of money; and when he heard the miller’s boast [that the daughter could spin straw into gold] his greediness was raised, and he sent for the girl to be brought before him […] and said, ‘All this must be spun into gold before morning, as you love your life.’” Here is where this puppet show deviates from the original, as the Miller’s daughter, Gretchen, counters this disturbing proposal and threat to her life with a most modern reply: “How is this a kid’s show?  I want to speak to the playwright!”  Other bits of dialogue, such as references to the “corrupted immoral actions” on the part of the king, are written with a relatively high-level vocabulary, ensuring that this puppet play will be enjoyed by the adults in audience as well as the younger children. 

Other additions are the rabbit character telling the tale along with Gretchen as well as a dragon, choices which render “Rumpelstiltskin” new and fresh for those who know the story by heart already. In this reimagined manner of presenting the story, a new name is also suggested for Rumpelstiltskin when,inevitably, the miller’s daughter (now the queen) must guess his name.  Humor plays a similar role in catching the audience by surprise, as in the rabbit’s aside to the audience after an unfortunate encounter with an insect: “I got mugged by a butterfly!”

Notably, these additions do not detract from the Romantic luster of the settings: sets of impressive waterfalls and mountain crags, with the Bavarian Neuschwanstein Castle high up in the background, prepare the audience for the arrival of the king in a beautiful carriage. The Romantic-Era approach also includes some of the dark elements for which the Grimms are famous, but no one in the audience seemed frightened by a talking skeleton—a happy talking skeleton, the skeleton informs us! The puppets are of different types, from those resembling hand puppets to those more along the lines of refined marionettes, adding variety to the visuals. 

Of course, we must also acknowledge the skillful performances and voicework of the puppeteers themselves: Kristina Hopkins as Gretchen, Bridgid Wallace as The King, and Kelcie Hopkins as Wendell the Rabbit. The voices were distinct and as full of personality as the agile (at moments delightfully comic) movements of the puppets.

     .  With the pandemic abating, the Puppet Co. Theater at Glen Echo Park is once again filled with the laughter of children, who responded very enthusiastically to this familiar tale of the Brothers Grimm.  In this production of “The Fantastic Tale of Rumpelstiltskin,” the Puppet Co. more than lives up to its motto of “a world with endless possibilities at the end of a string,” keeping alive the children’s entertainment that has been the heart of Glen Echo Park for more than a century. More information can be found on the show, which runs through May 22, by visiting: Tickets | The Fantastic Tale of Rumpelstiltskin | Puppet Co. (