Mettawee River Theater Company celebrates 40 years of puppetry

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BENNINGTON, VT. >> Continuing a celebration of long traditions, in North Bennington four decades of magic, myth and legend from around the world will descend on Park-McCullough House lawn on July 10 when Salem, N.Y.-based Mettawee River Theatre Company performs "Out of the Past: Celebrating 40 Years of the Mettawee Journey." For the first time in many years, the traveling show will not come as to Berkshire county.

With the help of seven actors and a musician, master puppeteer and mask maker Ralph Lee will bring to life characters from a dozen past Mettawee shows on public outdoor stages across the Northeast in July, and the show is free. Neal Kirkwood, Lee's collaborator of 15 years, will add atmospheric music.

Lee, who turns 80 this July, has led the company for 40 years with his life partner Casey Compton, creating a vast collection of handcrafted beings.

"They're like family members," he explained. "You can't just throw them out after they've done their bit. I'm glad I've kept them around for this revival."

The world will once again be created on the back of a turtle, dragons and 14 foot tall Grandmother Earth will cross paths with Irish sea god Mannanon, Aristophanes' greedy dung beetle and Archy, Don Marquis' wisecracking cockroach.

"His ego gets a little bit overblown," Lee cautioned.

For many families, a Mettawee performance is an annual outing.

"In a lot of the places, it's the only kind of theater they will see during the course of the year," Lee said." This audience loyalty has been one of the things that has kept us going."


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