Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 24, 2014
Satirical critiques of corporate greed never really get old, especially here in our “shop local,” “keep Austin weird” culture. And when you add some vicious mutant puppets to the mix, it only gets better.
“The Crapstall Street Boys,” playing now through March 15 at Salvage Vanguard Theater, is Trouble Puppet Theater’s unique take on capitalism and social exploitation.
An extended version of the workshop production they put on for the Frontera Festival Long Fringe 2012, this version has ironed out some of the kinks and added a lot of flare.
With a cast of adorable, bug-eyed little rapscallions, Trouble Puppet drops us into a dystopian future where dangerous monsters roam the streets and The Torch and Pitchfork Corporation peddles an arsenal of weaponry for home protection. And with author/director/designer Connor Hopkins’ cheeky brand of Marxism, “The Crapstall Street Boys” is both really funny and a bit unsettling when the puppets turn violent.
Along the aesthetic lines of “The Blair Witch Project,” the show includes some puppet chase scenes through the city streets, broadcast on a big projection screen above the set. This novel technique allows for an up close and personal look at the twelve-inch marionettes. And even when fleeing in terror, this is a particularly cute group of characters –- so cute it’s easy to forget you’re watching scenes of cannibalism and savagery unfold.
Lead puppeteer for the show’s main character, Caroline Reck gives You Lad such a precious and vulnerable voice that you can’t help loving the little guy even as he resorts to eating sewer rats for breakfast and even less savory options later on. Travis Bedard also provides excellent vocals for the greedy factory foreman, and the whole crew of puppeteers contribute to a well-polished production.
Hopkins has crafted a dynamic set for this show, creating a smooth flow of scenery with rolling tables and portable set pieces. The puppeteers provide crisp transitions in between scenes, keeping the pace and energy moving throughout.
K. Eliot Haynes provides excellent sound design as well and Justin Sherburn’s musical compositions also help keep the transitions engaging.
With a slow-motion monster battle, miniature cattle prod and all sorts of brutal bullying, the show asks us to laugh through the horror of exploitative labor practices. It’s also a bit more kid-friendly than some of the other Trouble Puppet shows, albeit perhaps in the range of “PG-13” for its violence.
“The Crapstall Street Boys” continues through March 15. www.troublepuppet.com
Read the Austin360 story “Trouble Puppet Theater mines our darker impulses to satirical affect.”