It’s the day before Halloween, and two sweet little puppet children are lost in a haunted forest. They make their way out, however, and enter a place marked by a huge sign that says “Ypsilanti City” over a rainbow. The children are hungry–oh so hungry. But all they have is an empty soup pot–and a rock that the boy found in the forest. One by one, the boy and girl meet a variety of monsters, demons, and ghosts who seem scary at first, though the most heinous thing they do is refuse to share food with the children.

“We haven’t eaten for thirty days!” the children cry. But the ghost won’t share the onion rings he’s got in his secret pocket. While the boy looks for wild greens growing in Riverside Park, the little girl learns a secret recipe for stone candy soup from a crazy cow-beast with horns, three eyes, and a Tootsie Roll nose.

This is the point where the two real little girls in the seats in front of me start whispering to each other, comparing notes about the artistry of the puppets. I’d say they’re about eight or nine and very self-confident. Very comfortable.

We’re all comfortable in our ornate, mismatched retro theater chairs surrounded by art installations and the rich scent of theater. It reminds me of the Performance Network, back when the pole stood between the audience and performers.

Dreamland Theater is on Washington Street in downtown Ypsilanti, where the rent is lower than Ann Arbor and the avant-garde creative types are more comfortable. The space also hosts live bands and adult puppet shows in addition to the Sunday children’s performances. Yes, this place truly looks and feels like the old Network and its all-inclusive, organic, hippie, live-in culture.

The owner of Dreamland Theater, Naia Venturi, has a U-M physics degree but has decided her passion is working here, creating sock puppets, stick puppets, and marionettes. While the puppets in today’s show are sock and stick puppets, numerous marionettes hang from the walls and ceiling. They’re chunky clay and clothed babies, dinosaurs, birds, and fantastical, one-of-a-kind creations.

The lost “children” on stage love Ypsilanti too. They’re relieved by how “nice” the city is. And in fact, at the end of the show, a blob monster that had previously refused to share food with them orders a pizza, telling the person on the other end of his monster cell phone, “No, I’m not interested in the jalapeno poppers,” before giving the address–26 North Washington.

There are two Sunday children’s puppet shows at Dreamland this month, November 1 and 8.