TRAPDOORS: Advent calendars — of all things — provided the design inspiration for the set of the newly opened off-Broadway show “Shockheaded Peter.” Just as an advent calendar has plenty of paper doors for expectant children to open on the days leading up to Christmas, the stage for the Little Shubert Theater production holds the frame of a house with 33 doors. Co-creator Graeme Gilmour explained, “With the set, the idea was there was something different behind each of the doors.”
There sure was. A gigantic mosquito that required three puppeteers to operate; an enormous, disobedient boy, and a slightly maniacal stork — as in the baby-bearing one — are some of the 30 puppets that dash in and out of the show. If all this sounds a bit puerile, it should. The play is based on the children’s book “Struwwelpeter,” written and sketched by Heinrich Hoffman, a German physician who concocted the cautionary tales as a Christmas present for his errant son.
Making the puppets for “Shockheaded Peter” was time-consuming, requiring 40 weeks of labor. The house’s raked floor and smaller doors in the distance create a forced perspective, making theater goers feel like they are watching a toy theater, which at one point they actually do on the house’s upper floor.
Considering the three-foot fingernails that grow through the floorboards and the one-dimensional flame drawings that appear in the show, it’s understandable how one of the directors, Julian Crouch, tried to set the stage in the eyes of the show’s mischievous emcee, who warned early on, “This show is not for the incontinent.”