Aplayful mix of campy horror and puppetry with a pinch of moral commentary, “Stumpy’s Gang,” from writer/co-director Patrick Cannon, is uneven but entertaining.
Play is set at GenetiCo, a fictional bio-engineering firm where the evil Dr. Minkley (Ned Crowley) is hard at work churning out mutant “specimens,” most of which are destined for the incinerator. At the literal bottom of the GenetiCo hierarchy is bio-maintenance disposal engineer (read janitor) Frank Bubman (Jim O’Heir), who rescues a few of the hapless specimens — not out of any sense of human kindness, but strictly for his own entertainment.
Frank’s particular form of entertainment is a fantasy TV puppet show, “Stumpy’s Gang,” a twisted melange of children’s shows from the ’50s.
Tormented by the memory of his cruel German mother (Desmond Rouge), Frank sets out to restage Wagner’s Ring cycle with the help of his mutant specimens, whom he has named Stumpy, Gristle and Booger. When co-workers Chuck (Michael LoPrete) and Nora (Mary-Kathleen Gordon) discover the “gang,” we’re off to the races.
The tone here is wretched excess. Cannon dumps the whole kitsch sink of ’50s pop culture, from kids’ shows to horror films, into a bloody Wagnerian vision of holocaust and apocalypse. It’s actually a lot to absorb in 80 minutes, and Cannon skips across the surface unevenly.
Despite the blood that flows freely here, Cannon’s metaphorical scalpel is slightly dull when it comes to the underlying themes.
O’Heir is energetic and effective as the tormented Frank, although he never gets beyond the one-dimensional character created by Cannon. Gordon and LoPrete are also good in supporting roles.
Despite the show’s weaknesses, there is a fun, ambitious and imaginative spirit at work here. The puppet “mutants” are wonderfully crafted and emerge as the most sympathetic characters in the piece.
Original music by Wyn Meyerson makes an important contribution to the tone of the play.