Reviewed by Richard Malone
There is really not much to say about a show that combines improvisation and puppets and adult humor that I didn’t just say in the first part of this sentence. “Stuffed and Unstrung” bills itself as two shows in one. You get the puppet show taking place above the actors’ heads (which is projected on two large screens on stage right and stage left). You also get the puppeteer show, as you see them physically manipulate the stars of the show. The audience gets in on the action by screaming out suggested improv topics and scenes. Sometimes less is more.
Character actor, Patrick Bristow, hosts the fun and keeps it on schedule while six puppeteers, led by Brian Henson, control the action. The puppeteers are multi-talented, no doubt. Manipulating puppets in a live on-camera show and improvising to audience suggested scenes requires a lot of physical discipline while letting the comic juices flow. It was cute at times, and there were plenty of laughs the night I saw it, but the improvisation got a little tedious. The cast did reenact two classic scenes that Jim Henson and Frank Oz created decades ago, which were the highlight of the show. The real value was seeing some of the magic of how a Muppet-like show is created live. If they would stay away from the adult humor, this could be a show for the whole family to enjoy—especially on a cruise ship or when taking a break from the heat in an amusement park theater.
At Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Through June 17
Produced by Westbeth Entertainment
Co-Creator and Producer: Brian Henson
Co-Creator, Director, and Host: Patrick Bristow