Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Confessions of Punch and Judy (Cleveland Public Theatre)

CPT presents ‘PUNCH AND JUDY’--a blow-by-blow look at love

Reaching back to 1742 there have been Punch and Judy puppet shows in the United States. If fact, it’s been recorded that George Washington bought tickets for a puppet play featuring Punch prior to the famous winter at Valley Forge.

It seems obvious that if someone wanted to write a play about relational conflict they could do no better than examine the lives of Punch and Judy since the puppets spend most of their time dishing out verbal and physical abuse. It’s taken a long time for that mission to be completed but Raymond Bobgan, Tannis Kowalchuk and Ker Wells have accomplished the task.

The conceivers began the development in what they have named, ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ (subtitled ‘YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE’) in 2001 in Toronto. In 2004 the present version of the script premiered on August 14, 2004 at the Catskill Festival of New Theatre. The show will play at Cleveland Public Theatre through October 9, move to New York for a February opening and then to Toronto in April, 2005.

In contrast to a traditional script which is developed by an author or authors working alone, ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ is a collaboration, a movement in drama entitled “devised theatre.” It is generated by the director and actors all of whom function as the playwrights of the piece. A similar technique was used for developing the classic musical ‘A CHORUS LINE.’

‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ professes the concept that Mr. Punch is a chauvinist who believes in knocking trouble on the head. He is portrayed as the victim of a nagging wife, a crying child, personal attacks by the authorities, the restriction of laws and the fear of damnation. Though this was an acceptable pattern in the Victorian age, in the present age of woman’s liberation, attitudes are different. Mainly, Judy fights back. She refuses to be dominated.

The show is performed by two actors who leap between realism and surrealism, exposing the horror and beauty of a relationship. In the case of Cleveland Public Theatre, the very proficient actors are two of the show’s conceivers, Tannis Kowalchuk (Judy) and Ker Wells (Punch).

Telling the “sweet tale of love blow by blow” the two bicker about moon exploration, ballroom dancing classes, relational honesty, the secret codes of male and female language, and fighting techniques. The lines include such questions as “What are you doing?” which gets the retort. “Driving you crazy.” A hysterical scene portrays Judy cutting up vegetables, decapitating legumes and chopping up a head of cabbage, as the duo examines “love without possession.”

Raymond Bobgan, as he did in his direction of the Times Theatre Tribute award winning ‘BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF The DEAD’ shows he has a total grasp of script and how to get his actors to achieve the message.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The CPT production of ‘THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY’ is a total success. It should be must viewing for any married couple or anyone contemplating a long term relationship. The pacing is right on, the humor is high keyed, the lessons are clear.