I was decidedly giddy leading up to the opening of Glass Half Full Theatre’s production of Fup Duck, a puppet show for grown-ups (and children who already know the f-word). I'm solidly in the generation that was raised by Jim Henson's army of puppets and, as a teenager, I fell unabashedly in love with films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; thus it was with childlike exuberance that I anticipated this evening of entertainment.
The highest praise I can give the Glass Half Full Theatre’s production of FupDuck is that I was still glowing with joy and wonder long after the show, which isn’t to say there aren’t dozens of things I can praise in this show.
FupDuck, sponsored by the Jim Henson Foundation, is artistic director Caroline Reck’s adaptation of a contemporary fable written by Jim Dodge, which tells the story of Jake, a whiskey-distilling octogenarian who receives custody of his orphaned grandson Tiny.
Tiny is as gentle as Jake is cantankerous, but by the time Tiny reaches adulthood, the odd couple has fallen into a comfortable routine. They live a quiet isolated existence until one day Tiny finds a baby duck, and brings it home. Fup, the duck, and her nemesis Lock Jaw, the wild hog who orphaned her, become catalysts for Tiny and Jake’s transcendence.
The production features live music by The White Ghost Shivers. Self-described as "a smorgasbord of Cab Calloway, circus sideshow, KISS, cabaret, Hee Haw and Robert Johnson served up at Andy Kaufman's bat-mitzvah," the band is much more than just accompaniment; the band members become characters in and of themselves.
Perched like so many birds on the roof of Jake’s home, the band creates a brilliant atmosphere for the story, witty commentary on the action and an anchor in time and place.
Chris Gibson narrates the story and performs the voices of all the characters. I know not how to describe the consummate skill of his performance without calling out individual moments of magic. Instead, let me just say that he and each of the characters on that stage have separate, distinct lives, as well as that he tells the story from a grounded centered place full of heart.
Then, of course, there are the puppets themselves. Designed and built by Ms. Reck, the puppets are operated by a team of seven puppeteers. The puppeteers, dressed as depression era rural folk, work as a team to bring the story to life.
Although there were regularly six or seven people on stage with the characters, their energy and their focus fed into the life of the puppets. Each of the main characters required at least three puppeteers to operate, and yet when Jake and Tiny sit and share a game of checkers, it seemed to be just the two of them on stage.
FupDuck was everything I hoped it would be. The adaptation is witty and charming, the production speaks to grown-up sensibilities about life and love, while taping into the innocent wonder and joy of one's childlike self.
See this show and, like the title says, if your kids already know the f-word, you should take them too. Actually, this show would be a mighty fine way for them to learn it.
The show runs Aug. 10 – Aug. 25 at the Salvage Vanguard Theater.