On Stage

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THANG LONG WATER PUPPET THEATRE (Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center): The widely heralded new Lincoln Center Festival 96 included this enjoyable offering imported from Vietnam. Water puppetry apparently dates back to the 11th century in Vietnam, the natural environment of which is filled with paddy fields, rivers, and lakes. The puppeteers, hidden behind a backdrop, stand in the water, manipulating the puppets, which appear to be floating, swimming, and cavorting on and under the water's surface. This company was founded in 1969 in Hanoi and performs all over the world.

The evening is composed of roughly a dozen and a half brief vignettes depicting various fantastical aspects of Vietnamese culture and folklore, varying in style from elegant to slapstick to agricultural to historical. Every piece is marked by skillful puppetry, gorgeous visual design, and beautiful puppets of all shapes and sizes.

MASTER CLASS (John Golden Theatre): Patti LuPone, one of Broadway's current divas, takes over the lead role of legendary diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Tony-winning hit play. Although LuPone lacks the utterly commanding air of her predecessor, Zoe Caldwell, her stage presence and technique enable this to continue as one of the most compelling theatrical events in town. Caldwell gave a performance that was precisely calibrated and drawn out for maximum effect. LuPone is looser, and if the character seems less forbidding, she also seems slightly more lifelike.

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The play remains an ingenious theatrical construct, the concept being that Callas is giving a master class to several aspiring singers, with the audience as a surrogate for the classroom spectators. The premise provides for plenty of sparks, and McNally has created a character who continually surprises and enthralls us.

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