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Youmans: Audience takes control in 'Stuffed'

January 05, 2012|By Heather Youmans

A band of miscreant puppets and six comedian puppeteers took to the stage at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on New Year's Eve, largely not knowing what the evening of improv puppetry had in store.

"Stuffed and Unstrung," Henson Alternative's foul-mouthed adult puppet show, succeeded in taking Orange County audiences behind the scenes of the Henson puppetry world, but an uninspiring audience at the Barclay put a damper on the evening's improvised humor.

"Stuffed and Unstrung" is your customary night at the improv — give or take 80 Jim Henson Co. puppets, each marvelously handcrafted and intricately detailed. And in true improv fashion, the setup was relaxed, casual and minimalistic, creating an unplugged performance.

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That said, such a bare-bones production must rely on content to carry the show. Henson Alternative put everything on the line by handing over content control to the audience. Within these types of productions, audience suggestions for sketches can either make or break a show, sometimes regardless of the talent.

In the end, a performer is only as good as the material they are given. In this case, the improvisational sketches were sufficient but could have been funnier. However, this primarily resulted from lackluster audience suggestions. The humor was bizarre, not sophisticated or elegant. The concept of a talking puppet in some morphed Henson creature form is absurd to begin with. Add some alcohol to the mix, and the more you drink, the funnier it gets.

However, the night was not without its comedic highlights. An audience participation sketch involving a randomly selected married couple, Brandy and Brian, added an interesting twist to the evening's comedy when the two said that they trained monkeys as service animals.

In the sketch, two Henson puppeteers attempted to re-create the couple's first date at a fundraiser for the helper monkeys. As Brandy and Brian watched the recap, they let the puppeteers know how they were doing by hitting a bell for correct information and a buzzer for an inaccurate representation.

Overall, the audience volunteer pieces proved to be the most entertaining and full-proof sketches of the evening.

In addition to several song improvs, which included impressive off-the-cuff background vocals and harmony, a rap tune was added.

Host Patrick Bristow asked the audience for a name of a beloved children's' story, prompting a frat boy in the back of the auditorium to suggest a fictitious title: "Paris Hilton Goes to the Mall."

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