Puppets, pastries and passion

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 26, 2014
When the WL Index announced the 2014 'Puppets & Pastries Dessert Theater for Adults' in its weekly upcoming events section it merely called it a "puppet show."

While puppets were present, it was more an evening focused on the heart and soul of storytelling.

The event was held at the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre, owned and operated by Monica Leo. For two consecutive evenings wine and dessert accompanied music and presentations.

"I thought it went really well this year," she said. "We had an absolutely packed house on Friday and a nearly packed one on Saturday."

Perhaps the highlight of the evening, Leo presented "Finding Home," a three part puppet show that followed her Lutheran pastor father. From a Jewish family, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp, traveled to Texas to be a pastor, then became a professor in Dubuque, Iowa.

One could tell it was an emotional performance for Leo; as she covered the death of both of her parents silence engulfed the room. She employed various puppetry techniques from a backlit presentation in the first act and a pop-up book performance in the second.

"I enjoy doing this show. I've had it for a few years but I don't always get the opportunity to perform it," she said.

She has been asked to perform the second act, entitled "German Eggheads in Rural Texas," in San Diego, Calif. and Phoenix, Ariz.

Laura Kittrell entertained with a piano rendition of "On My Own," a piece from the musical Les Miserables. Only, Kittrell applied her own words, focusing on the loneliness felt by a mother when her daughter has a cell phone.

Beforehand she and Alice Langbehn opened the event with a classically inspired duet that embraced one word, "meow."

Ron Hillis, who frequently plays music for Eulenspiegel puppet shows, masterfully picked his way through a few pieces on his guitar and banjo. Justin Cornett-Olsson performed a puppet show entitled "Banks of Ohio," a mournful southern piece about love and murder.

Closing out the evening was an old fashioned word-of-mouth story told by Susan Short Gilbert. She recounted discovering secrets her parents held from their children while growing up. She too brought a tear to some eyes during her time on stage.

This was the sixteenth time Leo has held a 'Puppets & Pastries' event. It originally began when she and her former puppeteer partner Teri Jean Breitbach were inspired by Shona Reppe of Scotland.

Reppe arrived for the Children's Festival, but also had a show for adults. They worked together to put on the event the day after the festival. Now Leo holds the 'Puppets & Pastries' once a year in February.

"We thought it would be fun," said Leo about the original decision with Breitbach. "We were just going to try it out and see what happens."

Sixteen years later the adult puppet night continues to bring in audiences from West Liberty, Muscatine and Iowa City.
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