The Elementals- Bunkbed Commando

Dance Theater Workshop,
New York, NY
November 3, 1999

Even though the premise could be serious, the show is played strictly for laughs.

review by Donald Devet

In Bunkbed Commando, the main character uses a James Bond-like gadget called a Brain Scrambler to subdue evildoers. “Brain scrambler” is an apt description of this ninety minute thrill ride that twists and turns and doubles back on itself, leaving my brain thoroughly scrambled. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

From a Beetle Juice-inspired monster to a demented Muppet-like sidekick called Chuck Bob to furry magnets that dance in your head, Bunkbead Commando has the feel of the surreal. James Godwin, Timothy LaGasse, Jim Napolitano and John Pavik, the designers, builders and performers, work black theater style to create an hallucinatory world revolving around a thin premise- someone is placing commercials in our dreams. Whoever is perpetrating this Madison Avenue dream-come-true has to be stopped. The task is assigned to an androgynous childlike fellow who is peacefully sleeping in his bunkbed Outfitted with an array of gadgets, including the aforementioned Brain Scrambler, and abetted by Chuck Bob, who sounds suspiciously like Dudley Do-right, the Commando takes on the bizarre assignment.

Even though the premise could be serious, the show is played strictly for laughs. The Commando encounters one wacky character after another- including a troll under a bridge, a lunatic sound effects master and a martinet nurse who is straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The laughs come not only from the irreverent characters but from the puppeteers themselves who play loose with the uncredited script. Glib ad libs cover a few flaws in the action and punch holes in the fourth wall between performers and audience. These holes cause a few problems.

By calling attention to themselves and the fact that we are sitting in a theatre watching a puppet show, the black hooded performers have diminished the puppets’ illusion of life. No longer can we believe the puppets move and speak on their own. We are forced to take notice of the shadowy figures standing behind them. The focus shifts from the story at hand to what clever ad lib will be said next. Like stand-up comedians, the puppeteers poke fun at their own craft, inviting the audience to do the same.

There is another problem. Even though the comedy of Bunkbed Commando is very adult, when the humor turns scatological, the whole show veers off the road into a gutter of bad taste. For example, an old man puppet using a walker attempts to cross a steep bridge. His farting and drooling and uncontrollable bowels get laughs but at a price. There are many ways of humorously portraying the elderly without getting malicious.

To its credit Bunkbed Commando attempts a tender moment in the middle of all this. Halfway through the story the audience is informed that the Commando has recently suffered the loss of a younger brother– a plot element introduced to solicit sympathy. But itís too late. The audience is laughing too hard to fall for it. The shift in tone is nothing but jarring.

Fasten your seat belts and hang on tight. Bunkbed Commando is a wild ride.

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