Hand Job

Romeo and Juliet gets a sexy makeover -- via puppets

The Argentine theater troupe El Chonchón is putting on a new version of Romeo and Juliet, Bill Shakespeare's tale about horny teens. And Juan Roméo y Julieta María is not only a "sexy" production for "mature audiences" -- it's a puppet show.

The tense machinations of feuding families, the politics of 16th-century Verona, the tawdry verse full of double entendres and "wherefore art thou" longing -- yep, all done via puppets. It begs a question: Theatrical mastery of the performers aside, how are puppets supposed to be dramatic, let alone sexy?

"How can puppets not be sexy?" laughs Sixto Wagan of DiverseWorks, which is hosting the puppet play for two performances this Friday and Saturday. No lithe female heroine or studly male lead to entice audiences here. The drama, passion and humor of Shakespeare's tragedy are relayed through the movement, vocal intonations and the sleight of hand of El Chonchón's two players, founder Miguel Oyarzún and Carlos Piñero. Oyarzún created the troupe in 1979 when he was 11 years old, and the show has gone on ever since. The DiverseWorks stop marks El Chonchón's first Texas performance on a tour that will take the pair throughout the United States.

Puppet love takes center stage  at DiverseWorks.
Courtesy of El Chonchón
Puppet love takes center stage at DiverseWorks.

Details

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 15 and 16; for information, call 713-223-8346 or visit www.diverseworks.org. $8 to $15
1117 East Freeway (off North Main)

"Because it's Romeo and Juliet, they've taken all of it and have made it campy and fun," says Wagan. Besides the challenge of suspending audience disbelief, Oyarzún and Piñero have to play every character in the show via five puppets -- some are finger puppets; some are larger. And as in a human performance with a small cast, here the brave and loyal Mercutio, the Nurse, Friar Lawrence and the warring Capulet and Montague families materialize via the puppets' frantic costume changes. That's right: The puppets switch their tiny wigs and fidget with ladders, all with no technical stage support.

To add to the mayhem, the Friday performance will be performed in the troupe's native Spanish (Saturday's will be in English), but Wagan says non-speakers will be entertained. "You don't even have to understand Spanish to enjoy it," he says. "You'll get the jokes just with the interaction of the players."

Keeping Shakespeare's sense of self-aware irony and satire, Juan Roméo y Julieta María contains elements of perhaps the world's most cherished puppet act, The Muppet Show. Watch for two puppet hecklers who'll mock their stuffed counterparts' performances in a tribute to Statler and Waldorf, the Muppets' wisecracking, smack-talking geezers. There's even some Muppet-esque slapstick brawling: "During a fight scene," says Wagan, "one of the puppets is being beat up, so he stops the action, calls for the stunt puppet, and is replaced." The "stunt" puppet is an unfinished version of the "star" puppet.

More than just Shakespeare for Dummies, the show should be a heady shot in the arm for the age-old drama. "There are smart pop-culture references, little things like Beatles and Led Zeppelin music, that anyone can recognize," he says. "It helps to demystify Shakespeare. Puppets can be sexy and they're not that scary."

So just how explicit will this sexy puppet action get? "Well, it's a PG-rated show," says Wagan. "You might see a bare wrist or so." Oh, behave!

 
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