You’re going to think that I don’t like raunchy puppetry, but actually I do. The first time Triumph the Insult Comic Dog appeared on Conan O’Brien, I absolutely fell apart. I’ve never laughed so hard as I did watching Robert Smiegel’s canine counterpart pump a prize-winning poodle at the world-renowned Westminster Dog Show. It was dirty and daring, filled with raucous (or rock us) energy. So rudeness doesn’t turn me off. But laziness does. And that’s the primary fault that dogs Soque du Soleil’s 60-minute presentation of Extreme Puppet Theatre.
There are some promising comic setups — a recurring documentary-style “Great Moments in Puppet History” and a series of episodes that follow the romance between a glove and a sock. As expected, the players offer a barrage of puns, some of which are amusing, especially a Sapphic mispronunciation of Elizabethan England and a list of Jimi “Hand-ricks” songs played at Woodsock. Near misses include a debate among puppet versions of the great Greek philosophers (mediated, of course, by Sockrates), and a French Revolution fronted by the very cakes that Marie Antoinette (shortened for this evening’s purposes to Marionette) urged her malcontented subjects to eat.
But the performances are slipshod, and the opening night delivery felt like an early dress rehearsal where everyone is just half-hearted and joking around. The skits end without warning or resolution, giving the audience no clue or invitation to applaud. There is no program, so none of the performers or writers are identified for praise or blame. That being said, I commend the lone female puppeteer for being more game and stage-worthy than her two male company members, one of whom played a slovenly circus ringmaster with the moniker Ned Bater, whose surname becomes the source of several easily anticipated jokes midway through the show.
Comedy, however blue or bawdy, still requires energy and timing, and passion for your own material is not optional. In fact, for a show that is truly fare for the Fringe, it’s the only currency you have. A company that seems almost bored with its own show cannot expect an audience to be otherwise. Still, I hope that Soque returns next year with an approach that really shows what it means to go on the offensive. But for this year’s entry, Extreme Puppet Theatre is no Triumph. Grade: D
— Nicholas Korn