Puppets Packing Heat

The Wrapping Paper Caper

Puppet. Even the word sounds hopelessly cute, conjuring up images of the clunky, big-eyed felt creatures that Mister Rogers used to visit, or Jim Henson's stable of Muppet characters. But there's much more than cuddliness in the puppet oeuvre. We all recognize marionettes like Pinocchio, and we'd all be disturbed to discover giant replicas of the 'N Sync boys, who took a set of 25-foot puppet versions of themselves on tour recently. In film, adult puppetry caught the eye of the satirically inclined, thanks to John Cusack's nebbishy antics in Being John Malkovich.

But those puppets were all pre-made, cleaving to our physical notion of puppetry. Liebe Wetzel and her troupe Lunatique Fantastique explode these puppetic preconceptions with their mind-bending, eye-popping flights of imagination, currently incarnated as The Wrapping Paper Caper. Wetzel's trademark technique is to use ordinary objects -- a feather duster, foam, or newspaper, for example -- to evoke surprisingly well-articulated characters. With a little rearrangement and a few simple gestures, these items come to life right before the audience's eyes, interacting with an amazing range of nuance and emotion. Though physical, the gut-busting humor that underscores each piece is never brutishly slapstick. Nor is it infantile: There's no need to reach deep into your inner child to be thoroughly tickled by the Fantastique folk.

In this Caper, a puppet private eye is hot on the trail of some styrofoam peanuts. He meets an eclectic cast of packing materials, including paper bag and cardboard tube constructions with names like "Saks-y BagLady," on his way to uncovering a holiday mystery. An ensemble of four additional puppeteers joins Wetzel as the show unfolds. It's bound to be a feel-good antidote to the rigors of buying, buying, buying -- the perfect way to unwrap a little delight this holiday season.

Liebe Wetzel and Lunatique Fantastique in The Wrapping Paper Caper.
Liebe Wetzel and Lunatique Fantastique in The Wrapping Paper Caper.


Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. through Dec. 17, then daily at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 18 through 30 (except Dec. 24-25).
Il Teatro 450, 449 Powell (at Sutter), S.F. Admission is $10-12; call 433-1172.

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