There was a freezing chill in the January air. Rosy-cheeked, Grammy and I stood in line stomping our feet to keep warm, pulling our wool hats over reddened ears, and tightening our scarves around our necks. At noon the theater door opened and a black-caped man announced: “Welcome to Le Theatre de Marionette.”
We edged our way through the crowd and found two seats near the front of the tiny theater. I sat with my hands in my lap listening to the faint music playing from behind the curtain and watching kids of all shapes and sizes milling about.
“I like watching the pretty puppets, don’t you?” asked a little girl sitting next to me.
“I don’t know,” I replied, fixing my eyes on the tiny stage in front of me. “This is my first puppet show.”
“Ooooh!” her eyes widened in disbelief.
Within seconds, the room darkened. The curtain slowly lifted and five hardheaded tiny-handed squeaking characters moved about the stage with odd, wild, and unpredictable motions. I cringed when I looked too closely at their disproportionate bodies and deformed faces. One had staring eyes and leering teeth, another had an impossibly blue face like a monster. I looked at the other children who sat motionless, absorbed in watching the distorted wooden actors.
“Le loup! Le loup!” the children cried out hoping to warn the puppet hero about the wolf puppet.
I looked beyond the blackened stage and discovered the marionettes were suspended on a number of strings connected to a central rod that one man controlled from above. Was I the only kid in the audience who realized that someone behind the stage was controlling the puppets? Was I the only kid who noticed that one voice was the voice for all the characters?
After the production the puppeteer dramatically unveiled himself to us children, demonstrating his skill in manipulating each character with strings and wires. I left feeling disappointed that the entire production was more about the puppeteer and less about the characters and their stories.
I recently reflected upon my afternoon at Le Theatre de Marionette with the puppeteer and his marionettes. I pondered: Am I like that puppeteer? Do I hide behind the stage controlling situations and manipulating others? Do I make everything about me?
I concluded that I’m not an out-and-out control freak or a mindless master manipulator, but I readily admit to being controlling and manipulative in certain situations, wanting the people in my life to do things my way. Although I’m not narcissistic and don’t believe the world revolves entirely around me I admit to sometimes being self-absorbed and boastful. On the other hand, I’m mindful and capable of relinquishing control and becoming a marionette on someone else’s strings.
Why the duality? Perhaps that’s human nature. I don’t know. But I’m beginning to understand that life is a complex stage where I’m learning to be content in being less of a puppeteer and more of a marionette.