Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts is well-known as the nation’s foremost museum and educational resource focused on the art of puppetry. But audiences outside of Georgia probably aren’t as acquainted with its theatrical aspect, featuring works aimed at grade-schoolers, teens and adults, from an upcoming adaptation of Peter Pan to the Center’s signature Xperimental Puppetry Theater, a decidedly family-unfriendly showcase exploring more mature themes.
Nestled between those two poles is Ruth and the Green Book. Adapted from Calvin A. Ramsey’s children’s book by director Jon Ludwig, this musical production follows an African-American family’s journey from Chicago to Alabama during the Jim Crow era of the 1950s. As young Ruth and her parents travel through the Deep South to visit her grandmother, they experience firsthand the discrimination so prevalent in the years before the Civil Rights era, denied access to food, shelter and even gas. (That’s where the green book of the title comes in. The Negro Motorist Green Book, an underground guide to hotels, restaurants and other establishments friendly to African-Americans, was published from 1936 to 1964.)
Throughout, Ludwig’s capable stable of puppeteers (visible to the audience in period clothing) act, sing, dance, manipulate the various puppets and props, and navigate several sets on the small stage with an assured grace. With a varied original score by S. Renee Clark (who plays Mama) and animated projections inspired by Floyd Cooper’s illustrations, Ruth and the Green Book serves as a vivid introduction to an important moment in American history.
Ruth and the Green Book runs through Feb. 26 at the Center for Puppetry Arts. 404-873-3391. www.puppet.org.