An opening act is one of the hardest things to get right - and there's a lot riding on it.A mediocre opening act is like Custer's sense of direction. If a company is willing to put a bad comedian on stage for you before a show, it's a pretty good indicator of what their standards will be for the show itself.
A good opening act, by contrast, is a sign that a show is surefooted; that it knows the difference between good entertainment and bad, and won't waste your time with something half-assed. The better an opening act a show is able and willing to put in front of you, the better the show itself is likely to be.
And if a company can take the next step, making your entrance into the theater part of the show, turning taking your seat into a joy rather than a formality ... that's about as good a sign as you can get. It means the hands you're about to place yourself in can juggle seven pins while picking your pocket. And Circus Finelli's Puppet Peepshow nails it.
It's all strange, low-tech, and sometimes not even very good per see ... but by the time the show starts you've already had enough fun to justify the ticket price.
That's Circus Finelli in a nutshell, and Puppet Peepshow can best be described as a cheap high school talent contest produced by Joss Whedon after not sleeping for 48 hours because he'd been abducted by gypsies.Puppet Peepshow is hosted by Blinky Winky - a marionette who was once the sugary villain of a theatrical program encouraging East Bay children to eat their vegetables. Now he's apparently running for SF mayor, on a platform of "I've got all the hos and candy!" -- which is actually better than David Chiu's approach, "What the hell, I'm already here and none of my colleagues like me."
Blinky Winky is joined by Circus Finelli recurring characters Luz (Luz Gaxiola), Mustard (Mahsa Matin), and Carmelita (Molly Shannon), who in turn showcase a variety of mostly puppet-based, well, variety acts:
There's not a clunker among them - and some elements are really quite exceptional. Puppet Peepshow may resemble a high school talent contest, but both Matin and Shannon are gifted physical comedians - no amateur hour here - and Noel and The New Eccentrics are truly innovative and engaging. This is one of those rare shows that just doesn't lag.
• Andrea Noel creates "Elvis the balloon man" right in front of your eyes (yes, out of balloons) and has him perform death defying tricks like sword swallowing and fire eating. This goes about as badly as you can imagine, and I could watch it all night.
• Audrey Spinazola sings a ukulele duet with a puppet kitten. Yes, it's adorable - damn you for making me say it.
• Paulie Anne Duke, who is the ... um ... brains behind what may be the world's first drunk, masturbating, puppet. Who also sings.
• Musician Jesse Roadkill whose song incorporates a bloody shadow puppet sequence
• The New Eccentrics (Jasper Patterson and Sarah Al-Kassab) who perform what they say is the world's first pop-up musical.
The moment of the night, however, has to go to Blinky Winky when he told a sexy female hand puppet (who later fellated him): "I'm going to make you my campaign manager's wife!"
Later, outside the theater, that's what people were talking about.
Circus Finelli is producing one more showing of Puppet Peepshow tonight at 8 p.m., at Stage Werx Theatre. Admission is $15.