A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch
A puppet-filled portrait of a prodigy in peril
Written by Kara Davidson
Directed by Shade Murray
RUN DATES: September 2-October 23, 2016
TIMES: Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm (no shows 9/15 and 9/22)
GROUPS: Save up to 30%! Start here!
PRICES: $15 - $35
AGES: Dangerously dark and decidedly violent, this production is best enjoyed by adults and teens. Read the Parents' Guide for content warnings.
RUN TIME: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission
"Very smart and progressive.... Another gutsy world premiere from The House!"
"A knockout performance from Cartwright... It really is a killer piece of acting."
"Wildly and wonderfully entertaining!"
"A virtuosic visual treat!"
Chicago Theatre Review
"A gifted cast that deftly finesses aspects of puppetry, clowning, farce, dance and music, and, best of all, introduces audiences to the exceptionally beguiling talent of a young actress named Sarah Cartwright."
"Come one, come all. Come small, come tall. ‘Tis time, dear Punch. Dear Punch, ‘tis time.”
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.
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St, Chicago
- Shade Murray
- Kara Davidson
Will CaseyOfficer / Constable, and others
Joey the Clown and others
Carolyn HoerdemannJudy, Blind Woman, and others
Echaka AgbaPolly, and others
Bum, Baby, Crocodile, and others
Owais AhmedWealthy Man, Flirt, and others
- Adrian DanzigPietro
- Mister Punch
- Sarah CartwrightCharlotte
- Will CaseyOfficer / Constable, and others
- Joey the Clown and others
- Carolyn HoerdemannJudy, Blind Woman, and others
- Echaka AgbaPolly, and others
- Bum, Baby, Crocodile, and others
- Owais AhmedWealthy Man, Flirt, and others
Joyanna CoxAssistant Costume Designer
Grover HollwayAssistant Sound Designer
Emily BreyerAssistant Puppet Designer
Colin MorganAssistant Props Designer
Jon BealAssistant Choreographer
Rachael KoplinAssistant Stage Manager
Brandon McCallisterStage Management Intern
Emily SwansonWardrobe Supervisor
Bobby HugginsTechnical Director
Jericka HuckeCostume Manager
John KellyMaster Electrician
Josh LightProduction Management Intern
- Assistant Director
- Joyanna CoxAssistant Costume Designer
- Grover HollwayAssistant Sound Designer
- Emily BreyerAssistant Puppet Designer
- Colin MorganAssistant Props Designer
- Jon BealAssistant Choreographer
- Rachael KoplinAssistant Stage Manager
- Brandon McCallisterStage Management Intern
- Emily SwansonWardrobe Supervisor
- Bobby HugginsTechnical Director
- Jericka HuckeCostume Manager
- John KellyMaster Electrician
- Josh LightProduction Management Intern
Izumi InabaCostume Designer
Mike DurstLighting Designer
Sound Designer and Recorded Music
John FournierLive Music Composer
Jesse Mooney-BullockPuppet Designer
Adam GoldsteinDialect Coach
Mary WilliamsonMakeup Effects
Eleanor KahnProperties Designer
- Scenic Designer
- Izumi InabaCostume Designer
- Mike DurstLighting Designer
- Sound Designer and Recorded Music
- John FournierLive Music Composer
- Jesse Mooney-BullockPuppet Designer
- David WooleyChoreographer
- Adam GoldsteinDialect Coach
- Mary WilliamsonMakeup Effects
- Eleanor KahnProperties Designer
- Stage Manager
We hear the word puppets and it is easy to have nostalgia for the imaginative joy that they certainly provide. But, parents be advised! This is not your average puppet show! A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch has tragedy written right in the title! We’re recommending it for adults and teens.
We’re telling a bit of a fictional origin story for The Punch and Judy puppet show, which has been a longtime staple of British seaside entertainment. But most of us have only a light recognition of the show, if any. Mister Punch, a squealing hunchback, has a wife named Judy. And they beat each other with clubs and pots and pans…a lot. Punch beats his servant, he throws his crying baby out the window, and uses his club to beat (and often kill!) dogs, crocodiles, neighbors, the policeman, and in some shows, the devil himself. Why, oh why, you might ask…why would we cheer for such a villain? Because, for all his antics, Punch is funny.
Some of our classic cartoons do the same: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Ren and Stimpy, Tom and Jerry, Itchy and Scratchy, etc… all of these characters use violence to help them out-wit and defeat their comic counterpart. We watch and laugh as Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, is blown up by TNT, and hit on the head with an anvil from ACME because we know his body is actually an accordion and he will sort himself out in the end.
Yet in our live action play, some violence becomes more real, and more visceral. Live actors play life-size puppets that hit each other audible whacks. They attack, they spin each other, they roll each other offstage. Mister Punch talks often about who is “killed” or who has “dropped dead”. The actors are also wear masks (which, honestly, are both beautiful and alarming at first view) that make them look more “puppet-like”. Joey the Clown could be nightmare fodder!
BUT! We have our protagonist, 10 year old Charlotte, leading us through this puppet world of mayhem. In the first Act of this play, she befriends Pietro’s puppet creations, which in turn makes us love them, too.
Here’s the not-so-secret spoiler: Act 2 is where we dive into tragedy. The fanciful and playful antics of Act 1 are tainted by imminent danger. An Officer has been tailing Pietro, and as he closes in, Charlotte is exposed to a cruel and cold reality of the world she is living in. Here are some specifics of the play that merit a warning or a conversation for our viewers (young and older alike!) as the violence begins to lose its comedic sheen.
- Pietro, who becomes Charlotte reluctant mentor, does not set many good examples, though Charlotte still soaks up his every action and word like a sponge. His eccentricities and behavior startle Charlotte, and his drinking leads him to violent outbursts (vocal and physical threats).
- Polly, the barmaid, has an intimate relationship with Pietro (the punchman) that is fairly transactional. She's not the "prostitute with the heart of gold", but Charlotte (the young apprentice, 10 years old) does misinterpret Polly and Pietro's relationship as "courting" when it is something different. They use suggestive language with each other and are seen kissing and holding each other onstage but nothing else.
- There is some crass language and rude jokes, though many insults or taunts in the puppet world have been twisted into puns or PG name-calling (“mouthy stinkhole”). There is some stronger and suggestive language and dialogue with the Officer later in the play, especially when he insults Polly and accuses her of prostitution, and of “spreading her legs.”
- The Officer in the play is corrupt and driven by money. In his pursuit, he becomes quite rough - in dialogue, tone, and action. He uses intimidation and force to influence other characters, and is physically violent towards Polly, Charlotte, and Pietro. Blood is drawn onstage, notably when he uses a knife to cut Charlotte’s thigh.
- Charlotte is thrown around quite a bit. She is threatened, attacked, spanked, verbally accosted, and abandoned. She is 10 years old (though the actor playing her, Sarah, is a grown up). The reminder of her age can make some of the violence towards her (especially the emotional violence she suffers by experiencing this cruelty so young) more hard to watch.
- There is a hanging, and it is done by a live actor. He is playing a puppet character at the time, but it nonetheless startling to watch a human being hung onstage, in full view of the audience.
- There are stitches performed onstage, with fake stage blood. If any viewers are particular squeamish, I recommend sitting further back in the audience.
I hope this gives you an adequate depiction of what to expect from A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch and allows you to prepare your students or children for before they come to see it, or helps you decide that it ultimately may not be appropriate for their age range. It is a darker (and even at times sinister) story by nature, but one ultimately of hope and resilience. It’s about being broken down and beaten by expectations of what our life might be. It’s about the obstacles that we encounter that force us to pick ourselves back up again and continue to the next page of our life’s journey. As LE CROCODILE says in Scene 21: “It takes patience and persistence, like with all obstacles, my dears.”
- Kara Davidson, Playwright
Joey The Clown
I haven’t named the dishes yet Master Punch! I suppose there are the plates, bowls, salad bowls, finger bowls,—
Did you say sausages?
Oh no, sir. You see, I can’t say “sausages”
You just said it!
Oh no, sir. I didn’t say “ it”. I said “sausages”.
Catch Joey the Clown, played by our very own Joey Steakley, and all the other puppets-turned-people in the world premiere this fall! Who can keep track! Bring us some sausages, sirs!
WOW! Check out these side-by-side costume and puppet renderings from our incredible designers Izumi Inaba (costumes) and Jesse Mooney-Bullock (puppets)! Carolyn Hoerdemann scales the Judy puppet up to life-size this fall!
“Ladies and gentlemen, how do you do? If you are all happy, me all happy too. Stop and hear my merry little play. If me make you laugh, me not make you pay.”
Company member Johnny Arena returns to the House, after his most recent appearance in Death and Harry Houdini, to bring the famed puppet Mister Punch to life as a human!
“I am an “exceptional”. That means that I can do something no one else can. So thereforeergothereuponthus: my mind is far above what your preformed brain can comprehend. For that matter, above what most humankind can comprehend. Which means alsothitherwhereforeto: I can be prone to unpredictable and unexplicable behavior. “
Meet Pietro (played by Adrian Danzig), the frugal, self-centered, and skilled Punch and Judy Puppet Master, and many others in A COMEDICAL TRAGEDY FOR MISTER PUNCH! When Pietro encounters Charlotte, a young orphan living on the streets, they form a business partnership. But when Charlotte starts changing the show, can Pietro keep up and step up?
“Come one, come all, come short come tall, ‘tis time, dear Punch. Dear Punch, ‘tis time.”
As a young girl fending for herself, Charlotte (Sarah Cartwright) learns to be distrustful of the world around her. But when an Italian puppeteer takes her under his wing, can she find a way to trust again, in the world and in her imagination? Come watch Charlotte find her way through the charmed and dangerous world of Punch and Judy puppet shows in our newest world premiere A COMEDICAL TRAGEDY FOR MISTER PUNCH!
Mister Punch, he loves his audience. And his audience loves him, yes?
Then he only needs to win. Victory. He wins by killing everyone who gets in his way. The end.
I think Mister Punch would get lonely without someone.
How do I take the hand out of your mouth, puppet?
Make sure you nab your tickets to this dark puppet-filled portrait of a prodigy in peril!
Post-Show Discussion: Saturday, October 8
Stick around after the 8pm show for a post-show discussion about the source material, the themes of the story, and the big questions the play raises for us. FREE
Insider Intro: Sunday, October 16
Before the 7pm show join us for a discussion about the show with the lead creators! FREE