Hollywood Fringe 2016
The classic hand-puppet show gets the live action treatment.
The classic hand-puppet show “Punch and Judy” gets the live action treatment in this excellently realized production. We may be most familiar with the British sea-side version of the story, but its roots go much deeper than that.
Using a cast of six (plus Foley artist Ryan Beveridge), the story is played out in Italian half-masks, using commedia del arte techniques with contemporary trappings and fight choreography. A 3 ft ground-row runs along the front of the stage, keeping the puppet-show feel, and allowing for some nice low-tech special effects.
Jimmy Slonina, a veteran of Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows, is note-perfect as Punch, the lovable ne’er-do-well who tries to murder his way out of trouble but just keeps running into more. Slonina leads from the front, barely off-stage and maintaining a rapport with the audience as he is reluctantly obligated to pile up the corpses.
Judy (Sondra Mayer), although sharing billing, is dispatched pretty early in the story (to return as an impressive ghost later on) but the scene-setting bickering and squaring off against each other is exactly what we want a live-action puppet-show to look like.
As the piece progresses, it starts feeling more and more contemporary, and truly satirical, we are made to feel uncomfortable about rape, cops killing unarmed black men, and even Orlando as this grotesque mirror is held to our faces.
Everybody except Slonina in the highly-skilled cast plays multiple roles and gets killed at least twice, the crisp stylization of the commedia form and the half-masks allowing for no possibility of confusion. Eric Rollins was particularly strong as Jim Crow and The Devil, but fine work is done by everyone.
Production values are uniformly top-notch, this show would look good on any stage. The fight choreography (Jen Albert) is exciting and witty, the lighting serves the piece perfectly and Ryan Beveridge (Foley) must run a close second to Slonina as Most Valuable Player, every gesture or assault is supported and strengthened by an appropriate home-spun sound. Costume design (Linda Muggeridge) manages to be simultaneously classic and contemporary.
Director Christopher Johnson uses his own adaptation and the content and form serve each other seamlessly.
Punch and Judy is that very rare thing, a truly classy fringe show, with no caveats or reservations. A great cast cast is led by someone who is genuinely world-class.
Hollywood Fringe is lucky to have this show. I recommend it highly.