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With science fiction and sexy one-liners, this puppet show is not for kids

Emily Quigley,

At first blush, the concept for “Polly Mermaid: Apocalypse Wow” seems like a joke — a mutant mermaid created out of humanity’s trash lives in a post-apocalyptic plastic kingdom under the sea where her best friends are puppets made from the detritus of mankind. When a scientist who has created a matter-transmitter device discovers that she may be responsible for this plastic realm, she teams up with Polly to try and save both humanity and Polly’s plastic friends.

Such is the concept behind Glass Half Full Theatre’s latest production. And, yes, it is a comedy, but there are also elements of surprising beauty and engaging storytelling.

The script for “Polly Mermaid: Apocalypse Wow,” written by Indigo Rael (who stars as Polly) and Caroline Reck (who also directs), establishes its semi-absurdist concept early on and then makes an odd, interesting choice — it treats the concept seriously. Though the first few scenes may feel a bit like a smutty, adult-oriented “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” soon the play convinces us of its world in which trash can talk and a port-a-potty can allow for travel across time and space. Like all good science fiction, once those rules are demonstrated, the rest of the story unfolds based on following through with the premise.

In this way, “Polly Mermaid” is simultaneously a fun romp, filled with double entendres and puppets made out of trash, and a serious piece of science fiction. Both strands come together in a message of acceptance and environmentalism (with some jabs at the current administration’s policies on both as an added bonus), though in some ways the absorbing story almost outshines that message.

The play’s strength isn’t just in its script, though. It also features beautiful stagecraft, with exquisitely clever puppets (designed by Rael and Reck) masterfully handled by the show’s “Scubuki” puppeteers — Gricelda Silva, Marina De-Yoe Pedraza, Karina Dominguez, Kelly Hasandras and Sarah Danko. The human performances by Rael as Polly and Katy Taylor as scientist Debora Déguderè are both standouts as well, mixing explicit jokes and sly winks to the audience with serious bits of exposition and philosophical musings. All of this is underscored by evocative music from Austin’s own Mother Falcon, with a mix of lighting from Rachel Atkinson and sound design from K. Eliot Haynes that creates a convincing underwater atmosphere.

“Polly Mermaid: Apocalypse Wow” is more than just an adult puppet show. Hidden underneath the sexy one-liners and beautiful-but-silly trash puppets is a fascinating piece of science fiction, and the show should appeal to audiences looking for either half of this engaging equation.

“Polly Mermaid: Apocalypse Wow”

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 9

Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road

Cost: $15-$35

Information: 512-478-5282,