Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
August 12, 2007
The lights go down, an accordion sounds, and two faces, smiling perhaps too vigorously, pop out from either side of a ridiculously colorful backdrop. Moments later, these same faces enter the stage, and are revealed to be two fully-grown adults in ludicrous full-body animal costumes. They prance about the stage, smiling, singing and dancing, all to welcome you in to Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse. By this time, it's too late. You've already been pulled headlong into the magical world of darkly comic self-actualization that is Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse. Starring everything you could imagine, from Cinderella to the never-ending cycles of poverty in the third world, it's a show not to be missed this FringeNYC season.
The concept of the show is "a kids show that speaks the truth." The show presents a wide variety of recognizable characters—a wide-eyed love-struck girl puppet, a crazy uncle, a Raggedy-Ann type clown—and puts a sort of modern, ironic twist on them all. The wide-eyed love-struck girl puppet sings a duet with Princess Sunshine about how her heart will inevitably be broken, the crazy uncle starts to rhapsodize about the wounds he endured in World War II, and the Raggedy-Ann Clown is a communist singing about the evils of capitalism. While the concept is not entirely novel, it succeeds marvelously through the strength the performers.
While all four performers are strong, the husband and wife team of Juliet and Joel Jeske dominate the show. Juliet Jeske has a tremendous stage presence that is the driving force of the show. Her ease on stage, her caustic wit and great delivery, in addition to a versatile singing voice, make her a joy to watch on stage. Her husband Joel Jeske is a surprise each time he comes onto the stage. His years as a clown are obvious in the way he transforms himself completely for each character. Whether he's the crazy "Uncle Fun," the voice of the lecherous puppet "Yacko Stinko," or, perhaps my favorite, "The Science Guy," Jeske brings boundless energy and joy to the stage that make his character pieces hilarious, and completely engaging.
The other two performers do well, but are overshadowed by the Jeskes. Brenda Jean Foley provides some lovely harmonies as the voice of the naïve puppet, HopeFaithCharity, and Timothy James-O'Brien is amusing as Abby, a neglected teenage girl and budding poet/blogger.
The dominance of the Jeskes in the show is well explained by the fact that between the two of them, they are the entire design team for the show—from Juliet Jeske's music, script, and costumes, to Joel Jeske's puppets and props, they've done it all, and all of it quite well. Mark Lonergan, the director, does an excellent job of organizing the world created by the Jeskes, and contributes some wonderfully ridiculous choreography.
While some of the scenes hit harder than others, all provide at least a few guffaws, if not belly laughs throughout. All in all, Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse is a hilarious, hour-long ride into a world of magical black comedy that is entertaining from start to finish. Go see it!