I always get excited to go to a puppet show, recognizing the potential for wild, imaginative play, but am usually disappointed. Going to the "Strung Out Puppet Cabaret", sadly, was not an exception.
Most of my disappointment stems from the logistics and scale of the venue and stage, however. That, and the dearth of actual puppets.
I had to choose between an up-close seat to the side or a center spot in the back and chose the latter because the first puppet stage set up was a small square opening in a black curtain, and the sight-lines from the side didn't look promising.
There were six vignettes, and the distance from the stage to my seat made a difference in half of them. The first two pieces used puppets so small that they were as good as invisible from where I sat. The second did try to use a multi-media approach, using a live hand-held camera to project the table-top landscape onto a large screen, but the stage was so poorly lit that the projection was either mostly black or out of focus.
Half of the bits were more focused on the puppeteers than actual puppetry. A mock children's show was more about the relationship between the hosts, one a cynical lech and the other a hippie environmentalist, apparently a mis-matched husband and wife team, and their puppets made from recycled material really looked like garbage.
It was nice to see Aretta Baumgartner back in town. She's been active in the Cincinnati theater and puppet scene for a long time, introduced as the only performer who's been in all nine Fringe Festivals, but moved to Atlanta in the past year to take a job with the Center for Puppetry Arts. She did a clever song, "Baby's a Puppeteer," which was much more enjoyable than the previous sketch, but it included only a minimal amount of actual puppetry.
A section of improv using a mixed puppet-human cast also proved disappointing although there were a few good laughs.
The most successful bit was the host's take on the "actual" transcrips of the lunar landing in 1968, which was laced with profane enthusiasm for the event.
There's one more performance, tonight (Sunday June 3) at 7:30 p.m., so maybe they'll have some of the bugs worked out. But if you go, get there early to get a seat near the center and close to the stage.
For more information, visit www.cincyfringe.com or call (513) 300-KNOW.