Puppets that delight adults and kids; The Thunderstorm of the Youngest Child, The Story of One Who Set Out to Study Fear, The Life and Death of Charlotte Solomon. Theater pieces by the Bread and Puppet Theater, directed by Peter Schumann
New York — People continue bringing their children to see the Bread and Puppet Theater, especially at matinees. They are probably enticed by the folksy name of the troupe.
While there is nothing wrong with bringing children to most B&P shows, and the B&P members seem delighted to have them, prospective patrons should know that more than bread and puppets awaits them. This is a deliberately radical company, artistically and politically, and their work always reflects their pacifist, egalitarian views.
On their latest visit to New York, at the downtown Theater for the New City, the B&P troupe unveiled a new piece called ''The Thunderstorm of the Youngest Child.'' Though this engagement has now closed, the company travels widely, and will present the work many times in many places before retiring it. According to director Peter Schumann, it is about ''the great forces of nature that create us and the powers of civilization which destroy these forces.'' The main character, played by a puppet, is a child who ''breaks through the logic of disaster and defeats the end of the world.''
This is the most spectacular show the Bread and Puppet folks have dreamed up for a long while. At some points the stage is covered with huge dummies based on figures in the ''Last Judgment'' of Michelangelo, above which the ''child'' floats and flies. A fire and a gigantic tiger are among the challenges our heroine must face. Music comes from brass instruments, homemade gimcracks, and all kinds of singing.
The method is Brechtian and the message is pacifist, suggesting that the human spirit can triumph over the ugly engines of hate, warfare, nuclear armament, and so forth. This is obliquely stated, in the usual B&P fashion. But the show's forceful images and energetic flow give it a power that can be felt, if not necessarily fathomed, by just about all ages.
On its New York visit the company also presented ''The Story of One Who Set Out To Study Fear,'' in which a hero from the Brothers Grimm discovers the threat of nuclear war. As a curtain raiser, one B&P performer offered ''The Life and Death of Charlotte Solomon,'' the simply told and illustrated tale of a woman's fate in Nazi Germany. Brave and serious fare, all of it.