Friday, August 19, 2011

"Stuffed and Unstrung: ☼ ☼

There can be few people who were either children or parents of children during the long era of Sesame Street who do not have a soft spot in their heart for muppets, as well as the for the names Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the creators and popularizers of all that marvelous entertainment. Henson and Oz, along with their crews and designers and puppeteers, applied a new, shiny veneer of hipness onto the ancient art of puppetry.

So we looked forward to laughing and feeling young again when we saw the new Henson Alternative "Stuffed and Unstrung" on our calendar, with Brian Henson in charge of a live cast of puppet masters, along with a Master of Ceremonies (Patrick Bristow) to move the whole show along.

It is SO dreary.

The idea is that the muppet audience has now grown up and wants to hear Bristow lob the f-bomb over and over again, wants to hear deafening music during the intermission that drives everyone out into the lobby, wants to have the muppets stuck on lame joke after lame joke about sex and wants to put the whole thing in the hands of an m.c. who manages to be both manic and unfunny at the same time.

The format is "Whose Line is it Anyway? -- the audience throws suggestions at the actors and the actors, holding their puppets high to make them visible on two large tv screens, act out the suggestions, the aim being to show us the magic of puppets and improvisers working together. The tech is fabulous, the gimmicks world-class, the puppets and puppeteers terrific. But it's also exactly what you expect from improv comedy -- some of it works, much of it doesn't, and all the technology in the world cannot make humor out of pretending a muppet has a penis.

They really do need better jokes. Maybe they can find Henny Youngman's muppet somewhere. If they want to give us Borscht Belt raunch it really should be funnier.

But who knows? Maybe this reviewer spent too many years caring for the now-geriatric Oscar, Miss Piggy, Kermit and The Count, even the later, gentler generation of Fozzie and Elmo. Maybe people who spend most of their time at comedy clubs and in pickup bars will find this stuff entertaining. And on that magic night when all the routines work, Bristow calms down a little, the audience produces fascinating characters, they make the screens bigger and the sound system audible enough so you can hear most of the improv lyrics, the show could be brilliant. It could happen.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Stuffed and Unstrung" Two Stars for the technology. The two segments with people from the audience brought up to stage worked better than most of the planned numbers. There was one wonderful bit: the one with the computerized puppet interplaying with the actors on stage. We could have watched that all night long.

Jeez, you can't shut this guy up: the music -- the tinkly synthesizer player -- wow.
Henson Alternative "Stuffed and Unstrung"
The Curran Theater
445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through August 27


Unknown said...

Boo. I totally disagree! We were there on Friday night and had a great time. Hope this review doesn't keep people from going out for a very good time!

noelster said...

on the whole, i'd say i would agree. most of the time, i'm not enamored enough with improv for me to seek it out, but since this involved muppets i was game. i found everything to be likable, and after 2 vodka sodas, more than ready to laugh, but as you say, with improv, sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. i found the whole 007 opening labored and more than once stifled a yawn. the 2 numbers that paid homage to jim henson/frank oz beginnings of puppetry were well done, but a bit of a disconnect seeing as how this was supposed to be an adult show. also, i expected a lot more profanity, political incorrectness etc but besides the 'f' word being said a total of 6 times, it came off as more of an afterthought. i'd love to say i loved this show more, since it was a personal thrill to see the muppets live (a childhood dream), but i just wish it had been funnier.