Monday, June 11, 2012

Angry Young Men: Potentially Subversively Commercial

A look at Full Frontal Puppetry

By Russ Bickerstaff
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This . . . is Blondie. (Cute, huh?)This . . . is Blondie. (Cute, huh?)

 

Angry Young Men . . .the people who developed the Night of the Living Dead Puppet show have launched a regular variety show called Full Frontal Puppetry. Sort of a weird mutation of  the Muppet Show under the influence of iconoclastic rogue  intellectuals, the show has a great deal of potential.

 

A song here, a dance number there, and a few weird experimental bits  thrown-in, FullFrontal Puppetry is that rare  mix of weird that also has the potential to be  quite commercial. 

 

Much like Henson's muppets, the  AngryYoungMen cast is a diverse group of puppets that varies pretty wildly in form and temperament. Some of my personal favorite characters include a superhero who only serves the  interests of big corporations, a robot that is bent on world domination  and subjugation of all organic life forms and . . . an unborn fetus. Two out of three of those characters were engaged in a third party political debate in what had to be my single favorite sketch of the  show. An unborn fetus is packing heat at a podium . . . there's something so completely wrong about that that it can't help but be memorable.

 

Not everything here is as good as that sketch. There are long stretches of dead time. While I personally agree pretty strongly with where they seem to be coming from politically, much of the blatant political humor comes across kind of tone deaf . . . but the characters are so clear and distinct and intrinsically funny that even when the sketches aren't particularly funny, there's the whole novelty factor of seeing shlocky sketch comedy being done by some very charismatic puppets. And each one of them is so distinct that one can't help but picture them on t-shirts and folders and backpacks and hipster lunch boxes . . . the inherent marketability of the characters is something that was kind of lost in the latest show, the premise of which had all of the puppets selling out and becoming shills for big corporations . . . 

 

Really, there are more than enough sketches here to makeup for the  dead weight . . . some of them extremely savvy . . . a cute, little monster pitches nonlethal weapons to a US military general. There's a charmingly pseudo-romantic show tuney duet between Alice Wilson and and a zombie puppet that has taken a liking to her. Naturally, she kills him when the song is over. It's executed with enough pleasant cheesiness to make one forget that most Broadway-style duets DON'T end with zombiside through fatal ocular trauma. 

 

That there's a dance number with the homicidal robot is probably worth a mention here, though Ir eally have no idea how I'd go  about describing it. Really, for me, the high point was that third party political debate between the fetus, the homicidal robot, a tea party member, a houseplant and Alice Wilson putting in a really funny and comically understated performance as the undecided voter. 

 

The brilliant  thing about Angry Young Men is their willingness to go into weirdly  deep comic allegory. If I'm not mistaken it wasTrace Beaulieu, the original Crow T. Robot on MST3K who once stated that there are things that you can say with puppets that you could never say otherwise. Characters like this are marketable. And they're capable of making deeper political and philosophical statements that one normally wouldn't make because . . . they're puppets. 

 

The trick for Angry Young Men is to generate enough interest to maintain the work as a hobby gone horribly right. In time more people will find them. In time they just might become every bit as commercial as one might expect. They're heading off in the right direction by making recognizable characters that are all fiercely interesting in and of themselves. Aside from the homicidal Spazbot and the fetus, my favorite here has to be Blondie. She's the one pictured above . .  .she's the one hosting the third party debate. She's the one pitching ideas for nonlethal weapons. No idea what she is but look at her. Who wouldn't want to hang out with her and her friends for an evening? 


The remaining performances of Full Frontal Puppetry: Summer Sell-Out runs June 15th & 16th and July 13th, 14th. 20th and 21st at Soulstice Theatre on 3770 South Pennsylvania Avenue in St. Francis. Admission is $10 at the door. 

 

 

 

And Another Thing

 

The next day I'm still thinking about these characters. I think  the biggest problenm I had with Angry Young  Men's treaatment of the premise was that it wasn't character-driven enough. I would've liked to have seen each one of the characters become involved in a different ill-fated sponsorship deal. Spazbot gets an endorsement deal with Microsoft or Norton Anti-Virus or . . . Rockwell Automation or some such. His status as spokesbot falls apart for obvious reasons. (He kind of wants to exterminate all of the consumers.) Blondie gets an endorsement deal for a flooring company, only to be revolted when she finds out that  the  carpeting is made from the pelts of other monsters. Lumpy gets an endorsement deal with Serta only to be hounded by the small offstage army of ugly, numbered sheep that he has put out of work . . .  the fetus gets contacted by the NRA for an endorsement deal that gets a little carried away when it starts packing heat . . . 

 

 

The fetus has great possibilities, too . . . I really like the idea of satirizing the Personhood movement with the character . . . but make it work just abit more like a fetus . .  . maybe the puppetteer could be the pregnant woman the fetus is being gestated in . . . a silent, featurless  sillhouette behind the fetus--the way pro-life seems to view the mother  . . . or maybe just have the umbilllacle cord snaking off into an area backstage. Other characters keep trying to engage him in conversation about where it goes but he's oblivious to it because he's clearly  just so much more  important than the mother. . . because he's pro life . . . it's just delightfully twisted stuff when staged the right way. 

 

 

I'm not saying AYM's  treament of the premise and the characters is bad. Quite the contrary for the most part. I would've loved it if it was a little tighter and more focussed on the character . . . and the fact that I'm still thinking about possibilities with them the next day means that they've got real potential to capture the imagination  of mainstream  audiences. If AYM  can only  find the best ways to tap that potential, they'll have that perfect mix of commercial pop art and something far more subversive.

 



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