Isn’t there a law of physics that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? I’m no science geek, but Matthew Posey’s Bunraku-based puppet comedy Coppertone II: The Pope of Chili Town uses this law to re-balance Dallas theatre’s humor quotient. Lately an unseemly number of self-indulgent, pompous, belabored “relationship dramas” about selfish, uninteresting, angst-consumed people have dominated the boards ad nauseam. From festival entries to full-length solo engagements. How refreshing to see a play that swings Dallas’ internal thespian pendulum back to an imaginary fantasy world peopled with ingeniously funny puppets for open-minded adults.
Bunraku. No, it’s not a new falafel pastry at Starbuck’s. Frequently associated with lovers’ suicide plays, “Bunraku” is often used among puppeteers to describe puppets that are manipulated in a way similar to those in traditional Japanese Bunraku theater, That means: human-sized with expressive, movable parts, (eyes, mouths, extremities) and up to three puppeteers on stage with each character, usually dressed in ninja-like black robes with faces shrouded. The main character in Posey’s production, Coppertone, has a particular movable ‘extremity’ that grows in such a manner to make many men green with envy and women laugh uncontrollably. That extremity may have not been envisioned in the 1870’s when the Bunraku puppet tradition got established in Osaka, Japan, but it elicits groans and whoops of delight from the audience at Coppertone II: The Pope of Chili Town.
This play’s action takes place in a bar run by jaded drug-peddling puppet Monte, played with Ted Danson as Cheers’Sam-like sarcastic wit by Xander Aulson. Monte engages the patrons or fights and makes up with his sleazy puppet wife Shinickwa (Walter Hardts) or coos with her over their ever present baby, who only says cuss words. Monte also croons a terribly funny rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in Act II. Producer/director/playwright Matthew Posey plays the title puppet role of Coppertone, grumpy regular bar patron with unique growing appendage and a generally droll, dry reserve that contrasts with the wildly hyper-kinetic actions of the other characters. He sets off some of the high-jinks but seems almost oblivious, which makes his portrayal even funnier. The second woman puppet in the play is by far the most outrageous, x-rated and wildly funny character on stage, Topeka, an extroverted prostitute in love with Coppertone. The play’s most intense scenes focus on what Topeka has up her crotch (referred to much more profanely!) and how to remove said object; in Act I it’s a large slice of watermelon, Act II Monte and Shinickwa’s baby. Anastasia Munoz enlivens the Topeka puppet character with gusto and unabashed flair. She’s naughty; she’s garish; she makes a fabulously funny puppet.
Rounding out the cast are Trenton Stephenson as Coppertone’s pre-teen puppet son Spanky, who brings unending athleticism to the proceedings on a tricycle, and a voice-over that sounds like Paul Lynde by Ross Mackey as “the voice of Satan”. Coppertone makes a pact with this devil to save Monte’s bar and vanquish their arch-enemy Vladimir (also portrayed by Anastasia Munoz). The nature of the pact? See the show to learn its dire terms, appreciate its humor.
The puppets are decadently imaginative, the script clever if racy, the pace furious and chaotic. Yes, it’s laced with raw language, stem to stern. If you’re easily offended, don’t go. According to director Posey’s note, Coppertone II: The Pope of Chili Town “ is fashioned after the old “Punch and Judy Show”, only with teeth, that satirizes the importance of family values.” He might have added: and helps re-establish a certain irreverent, balance of hilarity to the Dallas theatrical scene. Ah, such relief!
Coppertone II: The Pope of Chili Town, by MATTHEW POSEY AND THE PIONEERS OF THE SUAVANTE-GARDE runs Wed.-Sat. at 8:15pm through May 9 at The Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. in Dallas. For tickets call 214-826-6273, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org