We gave it an A
Move over, Princeton and the rest of the gang from Avenue Q! There’s a new bawdy puppet show in town: Stuffed and Unstrung, a production of Henson Alternative, the ”adults only” arm of The Jim Henson Company. (It should be noted, however, that Avenue Q is still running Off Broadway.)
The skit-based Stuffed features a cast of several dozen mostly unfamiliar Henson-created puppets maneuvered by a cast of six, led by Jim Henson’s oldest son, Brian. Stuffed does share a lot with Avenue Q. The appeal of both shows is the thrill of watching cute, squishy dolls, which usually produce childlike wonder in even the most cynical adults, say and do inappropriate and dirty things. But Stuffed departs from Q because it has no through-line narrative or musical numbers; the twist that Stuffed so perfectly exploits is audience-prompted improvisation.
The insanely talented cast, directed by on-stage host Patrick Bristow, take suggestions from spectators for themes, places, job descriptions, and celebrities to be incorporated into the show. It’s almost like one giant Mad Lib. At the performance I attended, Bristow had the audience name a dubious famous person, like Hitler or Stalin, after whom a high school should never be named. ”Britney Spears!” yelled someone from the young, beer-swilling crowd. In the ensuing five-minute segment, cheerleading puppets from the Britney Spears High School performed at an ESPN-style competition with the school motto of, literally and perfectly, ”Just do it.” You can imagine how much fun the performers had with that. In another bit, a couple who’d been married for 40 years were brought on stage. After a short interview with Bristow, the puppeteers reenacted their idea of the couple’s fateful, boozy meeting, as the real-life pair hilariously hit a bell or a buzzer whenever the reenactment got their courtship details right or wrong. ”I’ve had a few beers,” slurred the male puppet. The wife quickly dinged the bell!
Without question, Stuffed and Unstrung is amusingly ribald and a tad controversial — jokes masterfully touch on ”adult topics” from race to sexuality without crossing over to offensiveness. (But still, you must be 18 to attend.) It’s nearly impossible to spend the show’s two hours doing anything but laugh — and enjoying a beer, of course. A
(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 800-982-2787)