Thrills, chills, horror and puppet-based violence were just a few of the highlights of the Burtoneqsue “Doc Foster’s Twisted Tales,” an original puppet show written and performed by Puppet Arts MFA candidate Shane McNeal, at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry on Saturday, March 25.
Playing the eccentric Doctor Thaddeus J. Foster, and joined by his ‘wards,’ the cheerful and energetic Emma (performed by Katherine Folker) and the gloomy scapegoat Ben (performed by Esme Roszel, brought laughs, gasps and horrified silences from the audience.
Using the framework of several creepy, vintage objects (including an old lamp, some flowers and a Oujia board) McNeal presented three short stories, using several puppetry mediums in each story to bring the tale to life.
Throughout the performance, McNeal incorporated audience participation, having his assistants hold up cue cards for ‘Applause,’ ‘Gasp’ and ‘Awkward Silence,’ or encouraging the crowd to ask questions to a Ouija board.
The first story told the tale of Daniel, a young, rich boy whose parents didn’t love him, presented in the format of a ‘cranky,’ (a side-scrolling reel of images narrated by McNeal) punctuated with a shocking twist at the end. The second story, presented using hand-puppets, illustrated the adventures of a pair of conjoined twins and their gruesome escapades.
The third and final story, using a mix of shadow puppetry and hand puppets, followed three school-aged characters investigating an old house that was rumored to be cursed. After finding a Ouija board inside, the three get more than they bargained for in their adventure.
While puppet shows are traditionally viewed as being within the domain of children’s entertainment, McNeal embraced the creepy side of puppetry and didn’t hold back on the gruesome fates of his characters. Blood spatters, botched surgeries and a pair of demonic hands ripping a puppet’s head off were just a few of the visual highlights from the performance.
“I grew up with horror,” McNeal said. “I would sneak horror movies when my parents went to bed. There was that thrill of the forbidden.”
McNeal, who came up with the concept of ‘Twisted Tales’ in January 2015, said that he drew inspiration from writers and artists such as Tim Burton and Edward Gorey. One of his goals, McNeal said, was to throw the audience off with the surreality, horror and humor of the show.
“We want to make the audience question what is entertaining,” McNeal said. “[They ask,] ‘Should I laugh at this horrible thing?’ ”
Though the play was officially written in September of last year, it has been in working development since then, with tweaks and changes made to better reflect the tone and expression of the characters, according to McNeal’s co-performer Katherine Folker.
“We had workshops before every rehearsal,” said Folker, a fourth-semester puppet arts major. “There’s a lot of writing and performing as you go along. The thing about puppetry is that it’s very technical and very creative.”
The mix of mediums, including the use of the cranky, the silhouette puppets and the hand-puppets, allowed for a wider range of tones and emotion to be expressed, McNeal said.
“Hand puppets are inherently funny,” McNeal said. “With when you mix them with shadows, you mix with a darker environment.”
The silhouette style, McNeal said gave the show a darker tone, while the cranky, used in the first story, allowed for a more storybook feel to be established.
The surreal, yet amusing nature of the show was intriguing to some audience members, and captivating to others.
“It was wonderfully done,” said Mary Tobias, a Cromwell resident, who attended the performance on a whim. “It was very entertaining and well-worth it. It was very different. It was something out of the ordinary.”
The humor was intriguing for many in attendance.
“The puppets were really comically portrayed,” Mansfield resident Adam Koziolsasid said. “It was attention grabbing (and) hard to lose focus.”
While this run’s performance of ‘Twisted Tales’ marks the first time the show has seen the stage, McNeal said that he wants to perform it again in the future.
“I’m hoping that after this run, we can find more venues willing to let us do the show,” McNeal said. “ I worked on this (for) about a year on my own… working with Kat and Esme and giving it life has been great.”
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.