Saturday , March 2 2024
Two extreme comedies – one classic, one contemporary – make their notably explosive debuts at this year's Fringe.

Hollywood Fringe Review: Theater of the Absurd with ‘Punch and Judy’ and ‘Lamprey: Weekend of Vengeance’

Punch and Judy
Adapted and Directed by Chris Johnson
Fringe Premiere

Jimmy Slonina and Sondra Mayer in Punch and Judy at the Hollywood Fringe.
Jimmy Slonina and Sondra Mayer in Chris Johnson’s adaptation of Punch and Judy at the Hollywood Fringe.

Probably most familiar to contemporary American audiences as a raucous puppet show performed for children in English beachside communities, Punch and Judy actually has a longer and more colorful history than that. The character Pulchinella originated in 16th-century commedia dell’arte, and his violent story was first enacted by real actors in masks.

Making its Fringe debut this year is School of Night’s production of the legendary comedy, and it represents a return to form as masked actors portray Punch, Judy and the rest of the clan. The classic plotline featuring mayhem, murder and misogyny is retained, but writer/director Chris Johnson has provided his Punch with a modern and hilariously lewd demeanor.

Cirque du Soleil vet Jimmy Slonina plays Punch as a nonstop ball of psychotic energy gleefully indulging in various acts of debauchery. He is well-supported by Sandra Mayer as the shrieking harridan Judy; Synden Healy as the innocent Pretty Polly, whom Punch lusts after unabashedly; Eric Rollins as the Devil and the “upstairs neighbor”; and Tiffany Cole and Kjai Block fulfilling all other necessary roles (cops, et al.). They’re all terrific pantomime artists and, under the direction of fight choreographer Jen Albert, they display the violent moves required of a Punch and Judy show.

The simple yet effective staging recreates the look of an authentic puppet theater, and Linda Muggeridge’s costumes are absolutely spot-on. Sound designer Ryan Beveridge performs the percussion and sound effects live, helping to complete the illusion that one is watching a centuries-old traveling show.

Johnson’s direction is excellent. Every move the actors make is precisely executed, and when they suddenly stop to stare at each other motionlessly for what seems like several minutes, you can feel the anticipation building palpably. In an interview, Johnson cited Greco-Roman masked drama, gladiatorial combat, English mystery plays, commedia dell’arte, grand guignol, slasher movies and Looney Tunes as his inspirations, and this adaptation certainly plays like a potted history of them all. The violence is full-blooded and extreme, and if you find yourself offended by the onstage mayhem, you’ve clearly come to the wrong place.

Punch and Judy plays the Hollywood Fringe June 16-21 at the Complex Theatres. Tickets and more information can be obtained on the Fringe site.

Lamprey: Weekend of Vengeance
Written by Peter Fluet
Directed by Victor Isaac
Fringe Premiere

Lynn Alvarado (Carrie Keranen) is an L.A. detective who possesses more than a little enthusiasm for her job, much to the chagrin of her long-suffering husband, Chris (Pete Caslavka). She fancies herself a supercop who demands to be referred to as “the Lamprey” – yes, one of those eel-like creatures with a mouthful of sharp fangs. This moniker constantly elicits eye-rolling responses from her coworkers and the department chief (Peter Fluet), who also happens to be her father.

When Lynn’s partner is gunned down in a stakeout gone bad, Lynn swings into action to avenge her death. There’s just one problem: Chris has purchased non-refundable tickets for a Disney cruise that departs on Monday, so she only has one short weekend to achieve her vengeance.

LampreyFluet’s rapid-fire script mashes up cop shows and exploitation films into an explosively hilarious hour. Director Victor Isaac makes sure the pacing never flags, and the capable cast delivers on his efforts. The show is packed with shouting matches, gunfights, brawls and lots of physical comedy. The dialogue is brilliantly absurd, containing more belly laughs than 60 minutes should be able to hold.

Keranen is a wild-eyed and rubber-limbed Lamprey, delivering a comic performance that could easily double as an aerobic workout. Caslavka makes a fine straight man as husband Chris, who fruitlessly tries to keep her antic behavior under control. Fluet has written a plum role for himself as both the Lamprey’s boss and her father, given to obscenity-laden screaming matches with his daughter, only to suddenly make a 180-degree turn and calmly remind her to return her mother’s casserole dish.

The rest of the cast – Maya Imani Estephanos, Amanda Blake Davis, Glenn Stanton, Derek Mehn, Dana DeRuyck and Marshall Givens – also contribute mightily to the piece, playing all of the various characters who get churned in the Lamprey’s unstoppable wake.

Lamprey: Weekend of Vengeance is naughty, violent fun that moves at lightning speed. It’s primo Fringe. There are still three opportunities to catch it – June 18, 20 and 24 at Sacred Fools Theatre – and it’s highly recommended that you grab your tickets for one of those dates.

About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

Check Also

Ernie's Secret Life L to R Kezia Tyson and Carlo Adinolfi

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Ernie’s Secret Life’ – Exploring the Polar Icecaps of the Heart

With puppetry and magical realism 'Ernie's Secret Life', conceived during the pandemic lockdowns, warms the heart and sparks the sense of wonder.