Kinder, Gentler Puppetry 

PuppetLOVE! cleans up its act.

Deep dark secret time; time for me to own up to my own glorious stage history. Four years ago, I was tangentially involved with a cluster of puppeteers working out of San Francisco's CELLspace. You may have caught my portrayal of Innocent Girl Monkey in the infamous MonkeyThump production of The Monkey de Sade. If you didn't, it was a riotous mash of sock monkey puppets performing obscene acts with real bananas and puppeteers rolling around in hysterics under the folding-table stage. I doubt we made any sense; we'd had one rehearsal. But that's what the puppet scene used to be like at CELLspace, which hosted both the Funky Puppet Supper and the only-slightly-less-funky PuppetLOVE! Festival. It was creative mayhem, sliding quite effortlessly into the lewd, crude, and deeply inappropriate -- once it got past the various technical difficulties with projections, A/V, and the challenge of rounding up stray puppeteers when it was their time to perform.

That's all changed. These days PuppetLOVE!, produced by Wise Fool impresario K. Ruby at SomArts, has cleaned up its act. While it still features "experimental, political, and emerging puppetry," the emphasis has moved away from the raunchy and towards the radical. So the days of wondering whether you dare bring your children are over; a friend assures me that it's very clean these days.

And this year, if you don't want to take your kids over to San Francisco, PuppetLOVE! is sending a program over here, in the form of the Kids' Radical Puppet Mini-Festival. While the main program in SF features more visiting performers and fewer locals than in years past, the Berkeley event is 100 percent homegrown, with performances by Jennifer Levine's Princess Moxie ("a funky, feminist princess who wants to do everything but marry the prince") in Dragons Don't Cry, with songs by Emerald Rain Productions' Gaby Alter (Young Zombies in Love). And the Big Tadoo Puppet Crew's Granny Cure-All Quilt Show will feature "songs about farming, bicycles, fairies, and of course the lovable presence of the Green Man!" As an added treat, kids can also learn to make animal-ear hats and finger puppets from Gitty Duncan of Puppets and Pie fame. The Mini-Festival takes place this Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at 1924 Cedar Street at Bonita. Info for the event can be found at or 415-905-5958, or check out


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