- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

Space travel, clown puppets, magic, live reptiles, “The Hobbit” and African stories are among the children’s theater offerings in the Washington area this summer.

The Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater alone is doing five different shows this summer, most of them in July.

“July is our biggest season, and it’s when we do shows for family audiences — meaning all shows have something for everyone regardless of age,” says Roberta Gasbarre, director of Discovery Theater.

“We keep it varied because we’re part of the Smithsonian (which has 19 museums, 144 affiliate museums and nine research centers) — but also because we want kids and families to come back lots of times this summer.”

Most of the Discovery Theater shows, including a puppet show featuring “The Billy Goats Gruff” and “The Three Little Pigs,” will take place at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. One show — “Meet the Museum: Trickster Tales and Sea Island Songs” — however, will take place at the American History Museum. It features songs, games and stories about the Gullah peoples, descended from West Africans, of the sea islands off the coast of Georgia.

The Imagination Stage in Bethesda will perform “The Borrowers,” based on Mary Norton’s children’s book of the same name, starting July 5. The story is about miniature people who live under floorboards and borrow things for their livelihood from “human beans” who live above.

“It’s a very big adventure about very tiny people,” says Laurie Levy-Page, spokeswoman at the Imagination Stage.

Part of the adventure is when the very tiny people, led by young Arriety, go on an exploratory journey and find that life has more to offer than scraps from the human beans. They go outdoors in search of a new home and encounter excitement and danger and finally a boot, in which they make their home.

“And of course, everything seems enormous to them,” says Ms. Levy-Page. “They cross a field, and for them it’s like crossing the American prairie.”

To get across to the audience the scale and size differences between the borrowers and their surroundings, including human beans, set designers use tiny puppets and digital media projections. The blades of grass, for example, will be at least 20 feet tall.

Another theatrical offering for children this summer is Classika Theatre’s “Galactika,” a story about reporter Halley Comet, who travels through a galaxy and encounters planets, stars and whole nebulas during her tour. The production, which includes dance and pantomime, is a collaboration between Classika in Shirlington and NASA.

At Glen Echo Park, Adventure Theatre will perform J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” about the courageous Bilbo Baggins and his encounters with goblins, trolls and a dangerous dragon. The Puppet Co. will perform “Circus,” a puppet show featuring clowns, wild animals and acrobats.

Theater may not be at the top of a child’s or parent’s hot brain in July and August — ice cream and the pool probably are — but maybe it should be, considering the wide array of wondrous tales from which to choose this summer.

Aside from being entertained, there’s an added benefit.

“What better way to stay cool during the hottest months of the year than to catch a show?” Ms. Gasbarre says.

When you go:

Here is a list of children’s theater summer offerings:

Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington; 202/357-1500 or www.discoverytheater.com; Metro, Smithsonian on the Orange and Blue lines or L’Enfant Plaza on the Yellow and Green lines. Discovery Theater will feature the following performances — which are housed at the S. Dillon Ripley Center unless otherwise noted — this summer. Meet the Museum: Trickster Tales and Sea Island Songs, 10, 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Friday, Information Age Theater and Galleries, American History Museum, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue; Rainforest Alive, 10 and 11:30 a.m., July 5 through 7; Meet the Museum: Trickster Tales and Sea Island Songs, 10, 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., July 7, 14, 21 and 28, Information Age Theater and Galleries, American History Museum; Once Upon a … Puppet — With the Grey Seal Puppets, 10 and 11:30 a.m., July 11 through 14; Tubom, Tubom with Anansegromma, 10 and 11:30 a.m. July 18 through 21; Robert Strong Rocks Out! 10 and 11:30 a.m. July 25 through 28 and noon July 29; Meet the Museum: Trickster Tales and Sea Island Songs, 10, 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Aug. 4. Recommended for children of all ages. Tickets: $3.75 to $6 per person.

Classika Theatre, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington; 703/824-6200 or www.classika.org. Classika Theatre will perform Galactika 3 p.m. Sunday and Saturday through July 16. Recommended for children age 5 and older. Tickets: $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda; 301/280-1660 or www.ImaginationStage.org; Metro, Bethesda stop on the Red Line. The Imagination Stage will perform The Borrowers July 5 through Aug. 13. In general, showtimes are 10:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday; 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 7 p.m. Saturday. Call in advance for specific times and dates. Recommended for children age 4 and older. Reservations are recommended. Tickets: $12 to $15 per person.

The Puppet Co., Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo; 301/320-6668 or www.thepuppetco.org. The Puppet Co. will feature the puppet show Circus at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through July 30. Recommended for children age 3 and older. Tickets: $7 per person.

The Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo; 301/320-5331 www.adventuretheatre.org. Adventure Theatre will perform The Hobbit, based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday July 8 through Aug. 13. Recommended for children age 5 and older.Tickets: $7 per person.

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