Fri 15 Jun, 2012
Tags: 3 1/2 STARS, Bank of America Theatre, Broadway In Chicago, Shubert Theatre, Stuffed And Unstrung, This Week ONLY!
By Venus Zarris
Sesame Street first aired on PBS in 1969. Since then, generations of children have learned their alphabet, numbers and at least part of their notions of appropriate behavior from Jim Henson’s Muppets. Regardless of the scenario, these charming puppets add a deceptively sophisticated tongue-in-cheek humor that entertains the adults who watch the televised primary school lessons along with their kids.
STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG, created by Patrick Bristow and Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son), features the Miskreant Puppets. They resemble the Muppets. They sound like the Muppets. They move like the Muppets, but the similarities quickly end in the opening monologue as a puppet fish whispers to a puppet announcer, “You have a hand up your ass.” These are “Puppets Behaving Badly,” very badly and it is very funny.
The stage is set with a wall of colorfully whimsical puppets on the left, a cast of gifted puppet improvisers on the right, two large screens on either side of the stage that project the puppet show and a staging area in the center where we watch the madness unfold. Patrick Bristow sits in front of the puppet wall, hosting the festivities and hysterically working the crowd. He asks for specific suggestions for predetermined scenarios and then the performers “Puppet Up.” With puppets overhead, the ensemble extemporizes one ridiculously hilarious scene after another. It is a spectacle of the old world (puppets) meeting state-of-the-art technology (live video projections, manipulations and computer animation), as well as a demonstration of exceptional improvisational chops.
Opening night was rife with sophomorically sexual suggestions from the crowd, but the cast met each improv challenge with creativity that kept things fresh, while adhering to the raunchy requests.
Sprinkled into the ad-lib anarchy are a few charming recreations of original Jim Henson puppet sketches that haven’t been seen in decades. These deliver a sweet homage to Henson, a respite from the frenetic improv anarchy, and context to the origins of this specific species of puppets. More of these historically endearing interludes would benefit the show, as would a few new previously-scripted sketches. The cast is brilliant at improv but it would be great to see them create a few puppet sketch chestnuts of their own.
Colleen Smith stands out in this wonderful ensemble as a relatively undiscovered comic genius, infusing each sketch with sidesplitting humor. Every time she takes the stage to “Puppet Up,” you find yourself excited to see what she’ll come with next.
STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG is an ingenious evening of adult humor delivered by odd characters and anthropomorphic animals with hands up their asses. The hands belong to brilliant entertainers that cleverly create the puppet illusion while blatantly divulging the craft. STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG is also 90 minutes of delightfully naughty and slightly nostalgic fun.
3 ½ STARS
(“STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG” runs through June 17 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago. 800-745-2000)
Stuffed & Unstrung- Official Website
* Visit Theatre In Chicago for more information on this show. Stuffed And Unstrung – Bank of America Theatre – Play Detail – Theatre In Chicago