Puppets in progress

Puppet Cabaret needs a lot of work before its premiere, but the cast and crew have the chemistry to pull it off

A man dressed as a goat sat on me in the oddest theatre experience I’ve ever had.

The impromptu lap dance was a comedic high point in the dress rehearsal of Gentle Wings Puppet Theatre’s newest show, Puppet Cabaret. It accomplished what the goat wanted — a temporary distraction from a haphazard show.

Puppet Cabaret is meant to be a spectacular and racy tale of otherworld beings and circus acts, featuring puppets as well as their human counterparts. With obvious effort put into the larger props, it has potential to be a colourful show.

But, its under-rehearsed cast and unorganized set leaves the production looking more like a catastrophe than a cabaret. I’m not sure how the production will be ready for its premiere when two scenes could barely be strung together in rehearsal.

The thing about comedic puppetry is that when done well — consider Jim Henson’s the Muppets — it can bring to life genuine hilarity. Unfortunately, Puppet Cabaret misses the mark with small faceless dolls, whose limbs don’t move, and shaky shadow puppets that are hard to make out from behind the beige screen.

Several cast members were too busy figuring out their cues to fully commit to their characters. A half-confident man in fishnets is uncomfortable for everyone involved.

At times, the play’s material is enjoyably cheeky. But as I laughed at the rubber duck rising from a bubble bath atop an erect cardboard penis, I found myself dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what the scene was about or how it fit into the plot.

By the time the opera-singing mermaid took the stage, I was lost. The sea-maiden’s aria was an impressive and unexpected delight. Not only can she really sing, but the actress’s emotive face above a topless mermaid cutout is just the right amount of ridiculous.

It was clear from the moment I was sat on by the goat-man that the cast and crew of Puppet Cabaret are full of fun and love for the play. The three-man band supporting the show is astounding, injecting life into a less-than-perfect production. Regrettably, with only two days until opening night, it looked like the group still had a couple of long nights of rehearsal ahead.

Puppet Cabaret plays tonight and Saturday at St. Mary’s Parish Centre at 260 Brock St. at 7 and 9 p.m., with a 9:30 p.m. showing on Saturday. Tickets are available for $7 at Novel Idea bookstore on Princess Street.

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