The Outer Puppets Series II: The Horror!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 9, 2010
Richard Hinojosa has been covering puppet theatre for nytheatre.com for about six or seven years now (plus he studied puppetry at NYU when he was earning his master's degree in Theatre Education). Well, he's clearly been paying attention: The Outer Puppets Series II: The Horror!, the second in what's looking like an annual series of loose revues/jamborees celebrating puppetry and storytelling, co-created with Jason Griffith, is a delightful and deft exploration of the form and a fun late-night evening of silly/scary theatrics to boot.
Structured like a live version of a cheesy local cable access show, Outer Puppets is hosted by Sissy, a one-eyed zombie with a taste for human brains, and her sidekick, Maggot. (They, like all of the other characters in the show, are played by puppets, naturally.) This gruesome twosome introduce the three plays that comprise Outer Puppets, and trade banter that's sometimes sick, sometimes corny, and sometimes daffily self-deprecating in between.
The three pieces on the bill all share horror as their theme, but otherwise couldn't be more different from one another. "I Saw Your Monster Naked," directed and designed by Hinojosa and written by Hinojosa and the cast, is a gross-out-fest on the order of the old Mr. Bill show. Three little boys are on the run from various scary creatures—a dinosaur, a sea serpent, and the eponymous monster, who was indeed spied naked by two of them and feels compelled therefore to exact retribution. The puppets in this piece are doll-like: the three boys are operated very visibly by puppeteers' hands around their heads and bodies, while the much larger monster puppets are handled more traditionally. The monsters, in particular, are sensationally detailed and witty in their design, and they provide the most interest in this piece, which perhaps goes on a tad longer than it needs to.
The show's gears shift completely with "A Shadow's Puppet," a sophisticated Twilight Zone-y horror tale about a man who discovers that he has a propensity/gift for evil, and then discovers that the evil lies not in himself but in his shadow. A showdown between man and silhouette ensues. Naturally enough, this piece is done as a shadow play, and the intricate cutout figures, again designed by Hinojosa, are beautiful and often startling. Tristan McKay, who provides live musical accompaniment throughout Outer Puppets, really excels in this segment—his eerie, somewhat dissonant scoring sets the mood brilliantly.
Both of Hinojosa's pieces are performed against a changing backdrop mounted inside a large valise. For the final play, "Whistling Jack," the suitcase is shut down and the entire stage area is utilized. Written, directed, and designed by Griffith, this is a tale of four pre-teen girls at a sleepover telling ghost stories in the attic. One of the girls, Cadence, is a newcomer to the neighborhood, and it is she who ultimately spooks the others, possibly aided by an unseen presence summoned from a Ouija board. At once very funny and evocatively scary, "Whistling Jack" features a payoff that I daren't spoil. Griffith's writing is fun and the characterizations of the four girls—voiced/handled by Ann Gillespie, Jonathan Harford, Lindsay MacNaughton, and Hinojosa—are delightfully dead-on, and the puppets—post-Muppet hand-and-rod models a la Avenue Q—are splendidly witty.
Gillespie, Harford, MacNaughton, Hinojosa, and Griffith do all the puppeteering throughout. I was impressed by the variety of styles of puppets and storytelling in The Outer Puppets; what's best about the evening is that nothing lasts very long and that everything that happens is a surprise, entirely different from what has come before. Hinojosa and Griffith call their franchise Sick Little Productions, but their work is neither of those adjectives: a great deal of creativity and imagination has been brought to bear to make this charming and very successful show.