On Tuesday, April 17th, Stuffed and Unstrung came to the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA and I finally had a chance to see this show. Take a healthy dose of puppets, toss in equal parts improv and adult humor. The show springs from the mind of Brian Henson who is also directing The Happy Time Murders, a puppet detective noir. It falls under the Henson Alternative division of the Jim Henson Company which caters to more mature tastes with puppets, of course.
High art this ain’t, but it is plenty of fun. Patrick Bristow hosts and pulls suggestions from the audience for improv topics. The faster you can get it in the more likely it’ll be used, so come with a quick wit. As with any improv performance, the skits can be hit or miss depending on the audience suggestions. They last only a few minutes leaving you wanting more when the cast is hitting all the right notes, but doesn’t let a skit that is a little off go stale. A camera at the front of the stage takes in all the puppetry and it’s shown on two large televisions above the stage.
You won’t see Kermit or Missy Piggy on stage. These puppets are full of impropriety and adult humor. It would simply be unbecoming of Kermit to utter a four-letter word. Further, the show needs have the freedom and flexibility to stretch their puppetry into non-traditional puppet behavior. They may curse, drop sexual innuendos or make rather overt sexual statements. Our first skit involved a couple of puppets on marijuana doing their taxes. Leave the kids at home.
During the prologue, a puppet emcee points out that there are two shows going on: one on screen with the puppets and one below with the actors. Patrick is the human host and solicits suggestions such as a profession, reality show star or location. The audience is encouraged cheer on the actors with “Puppet up!” as the scene kicks off. One that stood out as particularly silly was an Olive Garden located in Italy where the puppets lamented their poor decision to serve microwaved Italian food to Italians.
In a few cases, Patrick descends into the audience and pulls a volunteer or two onto the stage. In one case, a couple recounts how they met and proposed. The puppets reenacted the scene as the couple hit a buzzer if the retelling was inaccurate and an encouraging bell if they hit the mark. When the female puppet declared that she would marry puppet John, but only if he would floss as she took care of a tooth with an imaginary linguini noodle, there was a quiet, but encouraging ding.
My favorite sequence was with a participant pulled on stage who was pointing at his spouse when Patrick returned to the audience for a volunteer. There’s a lesson here. If you don’t want to be picked don’t choose the aisle seats. Moreover, don’t volunteer someone else. In this segment, the audience member was inducted into the show and given a crash course as a puppeteer. The topic this time: a sperm bank donation. A crab puppet was in running the dubious institution – the perfect set-up for a few silly cracks. When our hapless volunteer entered the scene, he forgot to move the puppet’s mouth when speaking and the actors just rolled with it, amazed at the puppet’s ability to communicate telepathically. He did, however, know how to manipulate the arms and fulfilled the show’s maturity rating.
Throughout the show the laughter was nearly non-stop. Walking out of the theater, I overheard people repeating their favorite lines and skits. If it comes to your town, do yourself a favor and spend an evening watching puppets behaving badly.