What is shadow puppet noir? One thing’s for sure: it is not meant
This past Thursday, Printer’s Devil Theater hosted the premiere of “Animal Cruelty,” a play created, developed and produced in the style of “shadow puppet noir.”
Written by Scot Augustson and directed by Jennifer Jasper, the production tells the story of a colorful heroine named Chicken Jenny. The two-hour chronicle consists of non-stop witty dialogue and not-so-subtle innuendo. The fast-paced and deeply imaginative plotline takes the audience through a series of riveting twists and turns as they follow Chicken Jenny’s journey.
Stephen Handon, the voice of Chicken Jenny, describes her as a “salt-of-the-earth, compassionate, raunchy, love-prone, hilarious, take-no-guff Southern chicken.” We see the vibrant comedic heroine in every imaginable scenario, from flashbacks to her as a chick to her daily life as a sassy telephone operator. Without the comedic overtones of the play, the plot could easily be interpreted as quite dark, but the natural humor of puppetry converts the show’s noir violence into hilarity.
“I love how rich noir is…it unexpectedly breaks the audience’s hearts,” said Handon.
To best depict Jenny’s ever-changing location and the many characters she encounters, the stage is separated into sections—the center features Sgt. Rigsby & His Amazing Silhouettes’ silk screen, the right holds a panel of four actors who voice the puppets, and the left plays host to two jazz singers who musically illustrate the show.
The show features more than 50 different characters including Wally the Walrus, Kay Sadilla and a sea unicorn. With a multitude of characters, I was struck by the cast’s ability to develop each so extensively. Many characters only appeared once or twice on the silk screen, but each of them featured their own distinct accent, specified personality traits and unique comedic style. Given that only four actors play all 50 characters, it was quite impressive.
Having the ability to watch the actors as they gave voice to the many characters added a unique element to the show and made the performance even more captivating. Chicken Jenny’s quick-witted retorts in her high-pitched Southern twang were simply hysterical coming out of the baldheaded Handon. Like Handon, all the actors played characters of various genders throughout the production and exhibited incredible range and versatility.
Both Jasper and Augustson agreed that the key to making “Animal Cruelty” unforgettable was finding a cast unprecedented in its talent. With a script as vibrant as this, it was critical to assemble a group of actors who could carry out its energy completely.
Though the show is undeniably a comedy, Augustson and Jasper have been marveled by the audience reaction. The production is, obviously, very imaginative and the audience is responsible for illustrating a portion of the character’s development.
In doing so, they become deeply attached to the characters in ways unlike many other theatrical mediums. I experienced this first hand as the gentleman in the row behind me frequently cried out, “Go get ‘em, little Jenny! Winnnnnnn!”
The show may not be an affair fit for the family, but this talented group of actors will have you rooting for a cast of critters unparalleled in their
The show plays at Printer’s Devil Theater in the International District until Nov. 16. General admission is $15.