Theatre Review: Stuffed and Unstrung by Henson Alternative at Curran Theater, 8/18/11

by Marie Carney on August 20, 2011

Stuffed and Unstrung is an improv show put on by the Henson Alternative using 80 Henson puppets and six performers.  This sentence makes it sound good and intriguing, but actually watching it is like an explosion of joy in your brain.  When I left the theater Thursday night, with tears in my eyes from laughter and an added spring in my step, I said to my friend “We should watch it again!”

 The begining of the show was an explanation of how the show would work by Brian Henson and puppet.  All the performers are dressed in black and there is a camera on stage to film the puppets which projects on to two huge video screens.  The camera is set high so the puppets are held up in the air and no part of the performer is seen on the screens.  Along the bottom of the stage there are monitors for the performers to watch so they know that the puppet is in the right position.  It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

Brian Henson's introduction

After the introduction, the whole cast came out to perform a song called “Pup-It-Up” which described in more detail what we were about to watch, or at least the improv portion of it.  Then the show director Patrick Bristow came out to get it started.  In classic improv fashion, Bristow would choose the performers for each sketch then take suggestions from the audience on place/situation/job etc.  Which was fun and loud!  Though my favorite sketches were the two that had actual audience members participate.  One where they re-created a couple’s first date and another where a extremely lucky audience member was pulled on stage, handed a puppet and had to participate.  I was so jealous!  I definitely recommend an aisle seat in the orchestra section for a chance at that!

There was also a non-improv portion of the show where the cast re-created classic Jim Henson and Frank Oz shorts from the 60’s.  The way it was presented was very sweet and playful and I enjoyed getting to see the original puppetry performed live.  It was quite amazing that the shorts performed today were just as entertaining and interesting and a great tribute to the creative power of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

The performers themselves were all excellent, and it was fun to notice what each one seemed to be best at.  My immediate favorite was Leslie Carrara-Rudolph who had this amazing ability to make her puppets faces seem extra expressive.  She could pull out of the puppet so much with just body language and expression it was a joy to watch.  Another standout was when Michael Oosterom got into a crazy electronic rig and controlled and animated puppet.  It was quite different and exciting.

What surprised me the most was how much the show allowed me to suspend my disbelief and enter a world of puppets.  Most of the time I was transfixed watching the screens where it was just the puppets with these different personalities and voices, sometimes forgetting that there were people underneath controlling them.  I’d say the whole show was a complete success that I will remember fondly for a long time.

Stuffed and Unstrung is playing the Curran Theater through August 27th.  You can purchase tickets here.  And FYI – as of press time, there are good seats for all the shows, but Orchestra aisle seats on the late Friday and Saturday shows.


All Photos by Tommy Lau for SF Sketchfest

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