Magical Puppets in Search of a Solid Story

By Ernest Kearney  —  The Rogue Artists Ensemble has a rather checkered history.

They are an imaginative group that integrates grand theatrics and excellent puppetry into their productions; sometimes with great success as in The Gogol Project, sometimes less so as in D is for Dog.

As is almost always the case, what accounts for a satisfying experience — or not — comes down to script.

Seldom can you point to an even moderately watchable production that is shackled to a wretched and idiotic script. * *

Now the play that supplies the foundation of Wood Boy Dog Fish by Chelsea Sutton and the Rogue Artists Ensemble is neither wretched nor idiotic, but it is derivative and unripe.

Shoreside is a decaying fetid seaside resort.  It’s a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to find that Gregor Samsa, Richard Upton Pickman, William Burke and William Hare have a timeshare together.   It is under the thumb of a gang of thugs operated by the sadistic Fire Eater (Keiana Richàrd). If that weren’t bad enough, in the night’s blackness lurks a monstrous creature known only as Dogfish (Paul Turbiak).

Most of the residents of this Sodom by the Sea have had their humanity sucked out by the brutality around them, but one who still struggles to hold onto, at least a scrap of, his tattered soul is the alcoholic puppet maker Geppetto (Ben Messmer).   A magical piece of wood is brought to Geppetto by the spirit of Blue (Tane Kawaski), who was once the designer of Shoreside’s amusement rides as well as Geppetto’s lover.  From this block of wood, Geppetto, in the grip of an alcoholic frenzy, carves a puppet of a boy.  Somehow this puppet (Rudy Martinez) actually comes to life, and dreams of being a real live boy.

This sounding familiar?

The primary flaw with this production and what is generally the downfall of ensemble developed material is that it lacks the precise direction and unifying conceit that a single author brings to a piece.   The company has simply taken a well-known tale, added some very nice tricks of stagecraft and those of the artistry of the puppet, but has not otherwise built upon it to any great effect or managed to lift the piece above the level of a mildly bad acid flashback while on a ride at Disneyland.

It was certainly nice to see all their tricks and gambols performed at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, a venue with both the breadth and technical means to allow them to put some real razzle in their dazzle, but unfortunately while there was a lot of sizzling from the pan, there was, just, no bacon.

♦    ♦    ♦

* * The exception that tests the rule is of course that despicably fraudulent play The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez which managed to sham merit by the lucky conflux of a skilled director’s application of smoke and mirrors in its first production and the historical and religious ignorance of the masses; or at least of most dramaturges and producers.

(NOTE: in Featured Image: Tane Kawasaki is Blue in “Wood Boy Dog Fish” (Photo by Chelsea Sutton / Courtesy of Garry Marshall Theatre)

Written by Chelsea Sutton with Rogue Artists Ensemble

Original Music by Adrien Prévost

Directed by Sean T. Cawelti

Wood Boy Dog Fish

runs through June 24 at

The Garry Marshall Theatre

4252 W Riverside Drive

Burbank, CA 91505

For Tickets and Information:


(818) 955-8101

or go to

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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 and Follow him on Facebook.

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