A world of puppets -- and a stark drama of Ireland

Aaah Oui Genty! Starring Compagnie Philippe Genty. Puppet revue. The little Bijou Theater, where "Mummenschanz" charmed Broadway audiences for three years, has opened its doors to another offbeat assortment of fantastical creatures. The title of their show is "Aaah Oui Genty!" (as in jaunty). Whereas "Mummenschanz" came from Switzerland and extended the world of mime, Compagnie Philippe Genty began 14 years ago in France, has traveled the five continents, and ranges over the realms of puppetry. In their "Theater of Animation" Mr. Genty and his three fellow performers animate hand puppets, marionnettes, stick puppets, and figures adapted from the Black Light Theater of Prague.

Mr. Genty establishes the mood of humor and illusion by inviting a junior member of the audience onstage to help him assemble a marionette and acquire the rudiments of its operation. The get-acquainted amenities over, "Aaah Oui Genty!" takes off for the make-believe world where the manipulated figure becomes the alter ego of the manipulator. With these masters of the craft, feats of dexterity serve flights of imagination in a variety of moods from the broadly comic to the darkly psychological.

"Signboard" provides the all-purpose title for several comic bits and sight gags illustrating the consequences of taking street signs too literally or not literally enough. In "Clown," the puppetter succumbs to the puppet. But in "Pierrot," a tragedy in miniature, the white-faced clown of French pantomine severs his own strings rather than continue an existence of being manipulated.

"Metalmorphosis" propels an apparntly playful balloon through a mind-boggling series of transmogrifications following "The Officer," which suggests a ventriloguist's act in dumb show. The program climaxes with "Ostrich Ballet." The company's 1967 debut piece, it appears to employ a whole battery of puppet techniques for a hilarious finale. Along the way, "Aaah Oui Genty!" underscores its animations with pre-taped sound effects as well as musical accompaniments: standard classics, pop and rock, and electronic music. The creators also know the value of golden silences.

The ingratiating nature of his introduction reveals Mr. Genty's sophisticated awareness that the secret of his troupe's success lies in its appeal to folk of all ages. For the sake of the youngest audience members, "Aaah Oui Genty" might well include more material for the teddy-bear set. And its does seem that some of the admittedly ingenious pieces go on too long (like the Dudley Moore pianist who can't find the last chord). But these are minor reservations. They do not in the least diminish admiration for the artistry of these four internationally acclaimed puppeteers -- Mr. Genty, Mary Genty, Michelle Guillaume, Jean-Louis Heckel -- who populate their make-believe world with so much marvelous animation. Translations

Play by Brian Friel. Directed by Joe Dowling.

"Translations," which is having its American premiere at the Manhattan Theater Club, recalls an earlier stage in the struggle of Irish nationalists against occupying British forces. Yet Brian Friel's eloquent and beautifully acted new play goes much deeper than political and ideological conflicts or even the issue of freedom itself. Or perhaps one should say that these matters emerge in Mr. Friel's equally intense concern with a people's language as the wellspring of its sense of identity, native pride, and love of home country. Hence the many wars over language.

Mr. Friel approaches the subject indirectly. The place is County Donegal in 1833. The setting is a hedge school, an informal classroom run by the local community. The gathering pupils, mostly young adults, are awaiting the arrival of their patriarchal Master (Barnard Hughes). The old man's unfortunate tippling habits don't conceal his genuine scholarship or his desire to instill his students with his own love of Latin and Greek. With the Master delayed by a christening, his son Manus (Jarlath Conroy) begins the lessons. The folksy conviviality of the scene typifies the affection and humor of this exceptionally appealing play.

The translation of the title become unnecessary with the arrival of British Army engineers to map the countryside and replace the haphazard but melodious Irish place names with utilitarian English substitutes. Since the Britons speak no Gaelic, the engineers have brought along a civilian employee (Stephen Burleigh), who happens also to be the Master's other son, to do the necessary interpreting.

The contingent also includes young Lieutenant Yolland (Daniel Jerroll), who not only falls in love with the Irish language and countryside but also with one of the village girls (Ellen Parker). Mr. Friel has written them an idyllic wooing scene, which Mr. Jerroll and Miss Parker play with exquisite tenderness. Yolland's disappearance after a community dance, and British announcement of the brutal reprisals consequent on his failure to return, propels "Translations" to its sudden tragic conclusion.

All the lovely tones, overtones, and cadences of Mr. Friel's leisurely text seem to have been comprehended and, if one may say so, translated into stage terms under Joe Dowling's direction. The achievement should not be surprising, in view of the fact that Mr. Dowling is artistic director of Dublin's Abbey Theater. But realization of artistic possibilities also required a cast as fine as the one assembled at the Manhattan Theater Club. It is a pity that such a superior piece of playmaking is to run only through May 17. (Frank Hamilton will play the Master from April 15-24, while Mr. hughes is filming in California.)

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