I'm always on the lookout for the dark, sinister and slightly quirky here in LA, and I certainly found it (and more) in the multimedia performance of The Comical Tragedy OR Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch. Once I saw the unique YouTube advertisement for the show (see end of post), I set on getting my hands first on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. This isn't your ordinary comic book. Filled with both photographs, sketches and photographs of sketches, the story follows the memories of a young boy at his grandfather's arcade. Throughout his time at the arcade, the boy visits the Punch and Judy (puppet) Show, which, at first, I thought was a fantastic element created by Gaiman, but only to find out it actually existed in England during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Enthralled by the richness of the imagery in the graphic novel, but still a bit confused by the story, I made my way to the Bootleg Theater, where the stage alone reflected the whimsical and bleak nature of the seaside arcade with intricate writings on the floor, flashing carnival lights and tattered curtains. The play - no, the performance - began unassumingly enough, but this "hyper-theater" of the Rogue Artists Ensemble truly brought the graphic novel to life. Actors wore half-masks and full-body masks to reflect the art style in the book, while two screens played in the background featuring film animations of the graphic novel and doubling as shadow screens hinting at the vagueness of childhood memories. The fantastic sound effects set the eerie mood and brought you right to the seaside, and of course, there were puppets doing… well, outrageous things. Plus, like the Punch and Judy Shows of old, there was audience participation bringing a sense of intimacy to the whole production.
The show was mixed with light humor and painful topics. There were humans imitating puppets and puppets imitating humans that one would sometimes forget - they're just made of sticks, paper and cloth. In the end, I came out with an immense appreciation for this multimedia approach to theater, a better understanding of the graphic novel, and a childlike fascination with puppets! Catch this sick, twisted, but totally fun show on weekends through August 31st!
For more info check out ExperienceLA’s listing of The Comical Tragedy OR Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch. See below for a YouTube trailer from Rogue Artists Ensemble:
-Tiina Vuorenmaa, ExperienceLA Staff