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With Puppet Up! there’s a reason the kids aren’t here

Puppet Up! is a wild romp in which the skilled art of puppetry and spontaneous comedy collide.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Puppet Up! – Uncensored
Genre
Comedy
Directed by
Patrick Bristow
Venue
Panasonic Theatre
City
Toronto
Runs Until
Sunday, November 03, 2013

Puppet versions of a crab and an orangutan absurdly joked about a stripper and a spoon inappropriately hidden within a body cavity. "And that is why," said the zippy real-life emcee, calling an end to the skit, "the kids aren't here."

That caffeinated host – it was the Googleable character actor Patrick Bristow – told the audience not to be shy, polite or respectful, because none of the cast members of the "psychotic puppet party" would be.

And then a goat, a weasel and a hot dog riffed on meatloaf and Lady Gaga. "Who writes this [stuff]?" one of them asked. The answer? No one.

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No one does any writing when it comes to Puppet Up!, an absurd and highly energetic production of comedic improv and uninhibited puppetry. The show was billed as being "uncensored," with the material taking its extemporaneous inspiration from the shouted-out suggestions of the loudest and cheekiest members of the audience.

On opening night at the Panasonic Theatre, the dialogue was wacky and Mayor Rob Ford fared poorly. Kermit the Frog would have croaked from shock. Gonzo was never this gonzo.

A six-member troupe appeared on stage, with their hands up the backs of a large variety of unnamed nutty animals, people and things in-between. They stayed close to a small front-and-centre camera and monitor, which enabled the puppet-only action to be viewed on a pair of elevated screens. I preferred to watch the improv-puppeteers with their Muppet-like props together, though. The comics were as watchable as the dolls they were manipulating.

The touring show is the brainchild of Bristow and Brian Henson, the son of The Muppets creator Jim Henson. The scion heads up Henson Alternative, a production company concerned with content created specifically for adult audiences.

And adults say the darndest things. When the charmingly facilitating Bristow solicited a suggestion for a subject for one of the evening's many sketches, a crowd member put forward Miley Cyrus, which was booed down.

Because puppets are mock, they possess unique slapstick license for satirizing and parodying the powerful. They are amusing and affable and harmless, which enable them to say and do indecorous things.

So, yeah, Mayor Ford. The idea of the sketch was to involve someone doing something inappropriate. Sensing that the theme was too easy, the nimble-brained Bristow switched the premise to the character (Ford) involved with something fanciful. "Ballet dancing," someone yelled. But where? "At the Gay Pride Parade." And away we went.

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The energy was mostly madcap throughout, with a few vintage skits from Jim Henson's vault thrown in for a change of pace. Which is what burlesque puppetry is: a change of pace. Possibilities are cute, wild and illusory – all the more so when the antics are off the cuff.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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