MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch

A World Premiere Puppet-Driven work.punch19

By Kara Davidson.

Directed by Shade Murray.

Produced by The House Theatre of Chicago.

At Chopin Theatre, Chicago.

Ambitious puppet-driven play features puppets of all sizes including life-size.

In their 15th season, The House Theatre of Chicago has a wildly ambitious puppet-filled portrait of a prodigy in peril. This is a hauntingly dark tale of the creation of the legendary Puppets Punch and Judy. Featuring terrific puppet and mask design by Jesse Mooney-Bullock, A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch unfolds as a humorous very dark tale of the establishment of puppet shows in 18th Century London. Utilizing The House Theatre of Chicago’s storytelling aesthetic, director Shade Murry and playwright Kara Davidson weave the efforts of  Italian puppeteer Pietro (nice work by Adrian Danzig) to bring his street puppet show to London.


He is aided by Charlotte (Sarah Cartwright in a winningly charismatic performance),  a young tom-boy orphan who has made a life for herself on the streets of London snatching purses and running away quickly. She wiggles her way into working for the eccentric Italian puppeteer, Pietro, by collecting coins from the crowd at the street  puppet shows. She also watches out for the law. The two become partners despite Pietro’s gruff and focused attention. Charlotte’s wild imagination allows the violent Punch and Judy puppets to come to life.


Johnny Arena, as Mister Punch, and Carolyn Hoerdemann, as Judy, with Will Casey, as the officer, together with Echaka Agba, as Polly, all come to life as real live puppets. Joey Steakley, as Joey the clown, and Michael E. Smith as the Bum, Baby, and the Crocodile with Owais Ahmed, as the Wealthy man and the Flirt, round out the fabulous players who haunt Charlotte’s world.



Pietro has problems with Charlotte’s spins on his characters as he may not want his protege pulling the strings! This comic drama vividly acts out the dangers lurking in the unjust world of London. We see terrific use of hand puppets, masks and marionettes including a live-person marionette as the cruel and murderous nature of Punch and Judy is exposed. The Commedia dell’arte elements elements added depth and humor to the story.

I was engrossed and enchanted with the wack world of puppets in 18th Century England. The stage craft and the skilled manic action marked by numerous costume and set changes was a marvel as the pace was breathtaking. While the action wore thin as the show runs about 15 minutes too long, I was pleased and entertained by the skill of this production. This show is for teens and adults, it is a tad too dark for children.  But, as an adult puppet show, A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch is a sophisticated theatrical work that delivers.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: September 11, 2016.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout the A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch page at

At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, Chicago, IL, call 773-769-3832,, tickets $30 – $35 with student/industry $15 same-day tickets when available, Thursday thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, Running time is 2hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through October 23, 2016.