Puppet master 

Top five shows from Jon Ludwig

Ever since I was blown away by the life-sized, break-dancing skeletons of Heaven/Hell Tour in 1991, I've eagerly followed the Center for Puppetry Arts' original work, particularly the creations of associate artistic director Jon Ludwig. Equally imaginative with adult and family themes (his hip-sounding kid's show Duke Ellington's Cat debuts in January), Ludwig has led the Center's artists in creating some of Atlanta's most fantastic theater.

1) Frankenstein (1996) – With dexterity worthy of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Ludwig took apart Mary Shelley's monster mythos and stitched it back together, creating a surreal, ritualistic musical in which the horror vied with the humor. Ludwig's vision of weird science, mambo percussion and white-coated acolytes may be one of the best things I've ever seen in a theater.

2) Kwaidan (1998) – Ludwig's collaboration with internationally renowned artists Ping Chong of New York and Mitsuru Ishii of Japan presented a breathtakingly beautiful trio of Japanese ghost stories based on the 1904 anthology Kwaidan. Possibly the most delicate and haunting of Ludwig's shows, Kwaidan toured extensively in America and the rest of the world.

3) Avanti, Da Vinci! (2004) – Inspired by an offhand remark from rising young puppeteer Jason von Hinezmeyer – "You know, if Leonardo da Vinci's inventions really worked, he'd be like Batman" – Ludwig and von Hinezmeyer imagined the famed artist and inventor as the costumed hero, Renaissance Man, dedicated to save Mona Lisa from the evil Borgia family. Hilarious, erudite and a great showcase for von Hinezmeyer's gorgeous designs.

4) The Body Detective (1998) – Ludwig has created many delightful family shows, combining music, slapstick and educational tidbits with the likes of Space and The Plant Doctors (the latter resembling the medical show "E.R.," only with vegetables). The Body Detective possibly had the most elegant conceit, as private eye Sam Flatfoot tried to discern "the mystery of the human body" and encountered such characters as a brawny, walking musculature system and a pair of lips as a crooning femme fatale.

5) Wrestling Macbeth (2000) – Ludwig reinvented Shakespeare's tragedy of the usurping Scottish king as a no-holds-barred professional wrestling bout, complete with cage matches and monster trucks, plus ringside commentary often deriving from the play's text: "They're bathed in reeking wounds!" A delirious blend of high culture and low, with wrestling moves that gave new meaning to the term "puppet slam."


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