Monday, September 12, 2016

REVIEW: Puppets With Panache Perform A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch


A Puppet-Filled Portrait of a Prodigy in Peril

The House’s Anniversary Season Opener Tells the Graphic and Haunting Tale of the Creation of Legendary Puppets Punch and Judy

All Production Photos by Michael Brosilow


**This production is recommended for ages 12 years old and older.**

The excitement was palpable at last night's opening of the world premiere of A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch. I brought the whole family and the teens and adults all loved it! This show is phenomenal kick off to The House Theatre's 15th season. 

We highly recommend A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch. It's not only wildly and wonderfully entertaining, but a compelling commentary on the value of street art and in fact, art's place in society. We love the character of Charlotte (Sarah Cartwright), the young orphan, and we're thrilled she's a bright and scrappy girl, when there's still such a lack of great role models who are young girls in major roles. Adrian Danzig is also brilliant as the gruff loner puppeteer, Pietro. Don't miss THIS!!


... and that's how it's done.

House Theatre has long been one of our top favorites on the Chicago scene, and they consistently bring stellar story telling to the table in creative ways. We're completely enamored with this script and the clever staging that brings the iconic Punch and Judy puppets to life as human sized players. This production at once explores the cathartic violence that characterizes the infamous Punch and Judy genre and shatters it, with a young girl who's ready to move the narrative beyond the wife beating, baby killing, bad boy schtick. Highly recommended!

Come one, come all. Come small, come tall. ‘Tis time, dear Punch. 
Dear Punch, ‘tis time.”

The House Theatre's attention to detail is stunning, from their programs, which are always works of art in themselves, to the set design and props. We adore the collectable postcards that turn into 3 different finger puppets. The House even thoughtfully provided baskets of scissors and tape so the audience could assemble theirs on the spot! 

Do note, this is not a children's show. Everyone has different levels of comfort with violence, so younger children could enjoy this production with parental guidance, but the storyline is truly aimed at teens and adults. 

Dangerously dark and decidedly violent, this production is best enjoyed by adults and teens. Read the Parents' Guide for content warnings. 

Chi, IL LIVE Shows On Our Radar:


Whenever The House Theatre announces a new show or a favorite remount I get all excited like a little kid at Christmas. Their season opener is no exception. They had me at the title. I mean really, The House Theatre prowess AND puppetry are two of our favorite things. And, extra bonus, Adrian Danzig, Chicago dad and one of our favorites for physical comedy, stars as Pietro the puppet master in this world premiere. We've known him since his son was in preschool with my 13 year old daughter and we've adored his work in 500 Clown, Go Dog Go with Chicago Children's Theatre, and so much more.

The House Theatre of Chicago is proud to announce its 2016 – 2017 season opening production, the world premiere of Kara Davidson’s A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch. Influenced by the long history of puppets, Punch and Judy, and directed by Shade Murray, the production runs September 2 – October 23 at the Chopin Theatre’s Upstairs Theater, 1543 W. Division St.

RUN DATES: September 2-October 23, 2016
TIMES: Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm (no shows 9/15 and 9/22)
PRICES: $15 - $35

Regular run tickets range from $30-35. $15 same-day tickets for students and industry professionals are available for all dates, seats permitting. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit or call 773.769.3832. 

RUN TIME: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission

Charlotte, a young orphan, has made a home for herself thieving on the streets of London. She soon falls into employment as the assistant to an eccentric Italian puppeteer, Pietro. A master of the violent Punch and Judy puppet show, Pietro becomes a reluctant mentor to Charlotte. She is inspired and charmed by his bold, cheeky, and witty creations. The two become an efficient pair under Pietro's gruff and focused attention. As their partnership flourishes, Charlotte's vivid imagination calls the puppets to life to conjure her own versions of the classic tales. But Pietro may not let his protégé cut the strings easily. Reality blurs as live actors, hand puppets, shadow puppetry and marionettes share the stage to illustrate a dark reality of imperfect adults, corrupt authority, class discrepancy, and violence.

Davidson’s A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch takes audiences back to the arrival of the Punch and Judy show in 18th-century England, before it became a popular seaside and country fair entertainment staple. The production features puppet creations from Jesse Mooney-Bullock, designer of the puppets for The House’s The Hammer Trinity. Today, many Punch and Judy shows are censored, removing Punch's cruel and murderous nature, opting for themes that are more palatable for youthful ears. But Mister Punch can't escape his peppered past. Why do we cheer for this scoundrel? How does Mister Punch, a character who has been depicted as a merciless hero-villain for over two hundred years, get away with abuse and murder? Perhaps something meaningful lies underneath Mister Punch's colorful yet ruthless exterior. 

The cast includes: Adrian Danzig, “Pietro;’ Johnny Arena*, “Punch;” Sarah Cartwright, “Charlotte;” Will Casey, “Officer” and others; Joey Steakley*, “Joey” and others; Carolyn Hoerdemann, “Judy” and others; Echaka Agba, “Polly” and others; Michael E Smith*, “Crocodile” and others and Owais Ahmed, “Flirt” and others. Understudies include: Ben Hertel, Joseph “Joey” Galizia, Vahishta Vafadari, Carlos Almedo and Gillian Butcher.
*House Company Member

The design team includes: Lee Keenan*, scenic designer; Izumi Inaba, costume designer; Mike Durst, lighting designer; Kevin O’Donnell*, sound designer; John Fournier, composer; Jesse Mooney-Bullock, puppet designer; David Woolley, choreographer; Jon Beal, assistant choreographer; Adam Goldstein, dialect coach; Brian DesGranges*, stage manager; and Eleanor Kahn, props master.

Kara Davidson has been working with the House as an actor since 2013, but is excited to be stepping into the role of playwright this season! Two of her original full-length scripts were previously produced in the Twin Cities with Dovetail Theatre Company (of which she was a co-founder), and she is thrilled that Mister Punch will be making its world premiere on a Chicago stage. Previous (and current) productions with The House include Death and Harry Houdini (2013 and current), The Hammer Trinity, and Rose and the Rime. Around Chicago, Kara has also worked with Lookingglass, Chicago Shakespeare, and Manual Cinema, among others, and she regularly writes and performs for The Plagiarists "Salon" series. She holds degrees in Theatre Performance and French from the University of Nebraska.

Shade Murray is an ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theater, where he has directed the world premieres of Brett Neveu’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Ike Holter’s Sender, as well as productions of Marisa Wegrzyn’s Mud Blue Sky and The Butcher of Baraboo, Annie Baker’s The Aliens, Nick Jones’ Trevor, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire.  He also performed in the A Red Orchid production of The Mutilated. Other directing credits include Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Steep Theater, Second City, Writers’ Theater, The Inconvenience, Strawdog, and elsewhere. Murray is a lecturer at University of Chicago and teaches at DePaul University and Actors’ Studio Chicago.

The first record of the puppet, that eventually grew to be the infamous Punch, was made by Samuel Pepys in the late 17th century. He wrote his observations on the Italian puppet show playing in London’s Covent Garden in his journal. At the time Punch, short for Punchinello, was a puppet on strings but eventually, along with his wife Judy, evolved after nearly a hundred years to become glove puppets dressed in a jester-like fashion.

Puppeteers favored street performances at first, where the title of “Punch and Judy” was born, but eventually found their way to the seaside to perform to those on vacation. Today, various iterations of the show with roots in Commedia dell’ Arte, clown and slapstick comedy can still be found at the seaside, street festivals and carnivals around the world.

Charlotte, a young orphan, has made a life for herself thieving on the streets of London. She wiggles her way into employment for an eccentric Italian puppeteer, Pietro, collecting coins from his crowds and watching out for the law. They quickly become an efficient pair under Pietro's gruff and focused attention. As their partnership flourishes, so does Charlotte’s vivid imagination. Soon, the violent Punch and Judy puppets jump to life as she conjures up her own spins on the classic tales. But Pietro may not want his protégé pulling the strings.

Our "merry little play" reveals the dark underbelly of 18th century London as Charlotte’s reality blurs with the frantic world of Punch and Judy. Filled with live actors, hand puppets, shadow puppetry, and marionettes, the story uncovers the dangers lurking in an unjust world. 
Show Dates:
Sep 2 2016 to Oct 23 2016
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St, Chicago


The Magic Parlour is one of our top favorites of all times, and nothing short of astonishing. Dennis Watkins is out of the dunk tank and into the parlour! Death and Harry Houdini (with its nerve wracking water torture chamber trick) has finished another acclaimed run, but you can still catch the star, prolific prestidigitator, Dennis Watkins, in his snazzy solo show at the iconic Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. I caught The Magic Parlour back when the show was playing in the shabby chic basement of the Chopin Theatre. Several years back they moved to fancier digs, and this intimate show has grown in popularity. We took the whole family last year and even the jaded teens adored it. Dennis is the real deal, and a joy to see in action. Prepare to be mystified. Oh SO highly recommended. ChiIL Mama's Chi, IL Picks List. 

Performances begin again September 2 with more performances this year than ever before!

TIMES: Friday nights at 7:30 and 9:30pm, Saturdays at 4:30, 7:30 and 9:30pm
PRICE: $79
AGES: Recommended for ages 12 and up!
RUN TIME: The show runs about 75 minutes. 

An intimate evening of classic magic with Houdini himself, in the historic Palmer House Hilton Hotel. Award-winning, third-generation magician Dennis Watkins delivers an evening of sophisticated tom-foolery in one of the Windy City's most unique entertainment experiences. Dennis Watkins. Experience the premier magic show in Chicago, featuring mystifying feats of prestidigitation, sleight of hand, mentalism, and more. The Magic Parlour is replete with mind-blowing magic and mind reading in an intimate suite at the historic Palmer House Hilton Hotel.

Guests convene at Potter's on the lobby level and will be escorted to the private performance venue. 

"A SOPHISTICATED NIGHT-CAP. You’ll be mightily impressed! " 
-Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

“A perfect evening of illusion and laughter… The Magic Parlour TRANSFORMED a roomful of tired adults into WIDE-EYED, WIDE AWAKE innocents. And that in itself is Watkins’ most impressive trick." 
-Chicago Theater Beat

“This late-night magic show is exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and UTTERLY BAFFLING.” 
-The Chicago Reader

Check out our Yelp reviews for more glowing recommendations from mystified patrons

Show Dates:
Sep 2 2016 to Jul 1 2017
Location: The Palmer House Hilton Hotel

17 East Monroe Street, Chicago IL 60603

ABOUT THE HOUSE THEATRE OF CHICAGO The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular art form.

The House was founded in 2001 by a group of friends to explore connections between Community and Storytelling through a unique theatrical experience. Since becoming eligible in 2004, The House has been nominated for 60 Joseph Jefferson Awards (21 wins), became the first recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theater Award in 2007, and was awarded a 2014 National Theatre Company Grant by the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards. Now in its 14th year of original work, The House continues its mission to unite Chicago in the spirit of Community through amazing feats of Storytelling.

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