Manhattan Puppetry

Eliza's Window, Natalie Burgess's captivating puppet play with music, illustrates how children's theater can edify even as it entertains. The hourlong play, being staged on Saturday afternoons through August by Paper City Productions in Manhattan Theatre Source's tiny second-story theater near Washington Square Park, is unapologetically moral without coming off as preachy, thanks to its wry humor and generosity of spirit.

The play follows the puppet Eliza, a depressed, wheelchair-bound girl whose well-to-do parents have recently split up, as she gradually learns from a parade of wise animals and spirits that money and what your friends think of you are less important than discovering your own song and appreciating the unique music that others make.

Creator and director Burgess, who spent three years at the Central Park Zoo as a performer, songwriter, and puppeteer, manages also to demystify music and music making for kids. As one of the musicians instructs Eliza about composing a song, "It's as easy as 1-2-3-4."

Eliza's Window can be enjoyed by the entire family. Burgess does not talk kid talk. She rightly assumes that children will stick with a compelling story that is imaginatively rendered and well paced, even if some of the jokes and big words go sailing over their heads en route to the parents in the audience.

The play might not travel well, however, since so much of the story is New York-centric, whether it's the running subplot about Pale Male, the Central Park red-tailed hawk, or Eliza's suggestions that the turtle looking for the "pond of plenty" check out Rockefeller Center, and that the rabbit seeking a garden head to a certain basketball arena.

Every element of the play has been carefully conceived, crafted, and executed, from the whimsical set design and puppets to the engaging songs. Burgess and the three other cast members

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