Punch and Judy get it on

Hollywood Fringe Festival 2016Henry Mayhew, in 1841, named his pioneering humor magazine after the gleeful little murdering bastard. Neil Gaiman sought him out to use in one of his best graphic novels. Him and the Missus are clues in the 2014 thriller Gone Girl, and in the Marx Brothers’ 1931 Monkey Business Harpo joins them in a performance. There’s even an opera by Harrison Birtwistle.

But I gotta say, for fun and merry murdering mayhem, none of them can hold a candle to Christopher Johnson’s live action adaptation of the classic Punch and Judy.

For the unacquainted Punch is a happy go lucky, fustigating psychopath, a cross between Bugs Bunny and Ted Bundy.

His origins are debated, but probably evolved from 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte, becoming a puppet figure at some point prior to showing up in 17th century England just in time to earn a mention in Samuel Pepys’ diary.

Johnson has pulled off the tricky business of devolving Punch and his family of stock characters back to the original commedia form while keeping the trappings of a puppet show and peppering it with tasty contemporary references.

punjud.jpgThe plot in a nutshell goes like this: There’s Punch. He kills a lot of people. Then he kills some more. Johnson, along with Jen Albert his producer and the combat-fight-bashing people in the head-bouncing babies off the wall-kicking ass choreographer have a truly deliciously demented delight here. A show that is a genuine case study of style and comic delivery that deserves to be preserved in amber.

We are talking here a high concept blending of clowning and chaos, so Johnson and Albert have wisely assembled a top notch cast fully capable of carrying out the demands they make of them. Synden Healy and Tiffany Cole all have their moments in the spotlight and bask in them brilliantly. Kjai Block is perhaps the Toby the dog of our generation, Eric Rollins is a hell of a lot of fun as ol’ Nick the devil and Sondra Mayer is excellent as Punch’s fussock bitter half.

Ah but the epicenter of the evening’s epicaricacy ecstasy is Jimmy Slonina as Punch. The skills and training that have landed him gigs in Vegas spectacles and Cirque du Soleil’s productions are apparent here for all to appreciate in slack jaw awe.

Ryan Beveridge, a maestro of goofy sounds and Andrew Leman’s splendid puppetry provide a spit shine to the show’s already present diamond gleam.

And to wrap this up, my congratulations to Johnson, Albert and their cast and crew for gold.jpgeasily walking away with Hollywood Fringe 2016’s very first: GOLD

Click HERE for tickets and more about this production of Punch and Judy at the Fringe.

Read more Fringe HERE.

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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