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Friday, February 1, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Grown-up puppet fun, beyond the shadow of a doubt

Special to The Seattle Times

Theater review

"A Boy in the Beastly City," by Scot Augustson, plays Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 16, Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., Seattle; $15 (800-838-3006 or www.printersdevil.org).

Chicken Jenny, a Parisian streetwalker and, well, actual chicken, bravely sings Edith Piaf's great "La Vie En Rose" while facing a guillotine. Later, three innocent children flee a big-city sweatshop and are condemned to burn in a sacrifice to the Great Clown.

Is there a connection? In Scot Augustson's free-associating and very funny "A Boy in the Beastly City," an adults-only shadow-puppet epic presented by Printer's Devil Theater, the answer can only be: um, sure. A pastiche of French melodrama, Southern Gothic, Victorian adventure and, well, anything to do with monkeys, "Boy" is relentlessly silly in the best, Monty Pythonesque sense.

The latest production in Augustson's surreal and bawdy "Sgt. Rigsby & His Amazing Silhouettes" canon ("Rigsby" shadow-puppet tales have been popping up all over Seattle for a decade), "Boy" begins with the kidnapping of little Raj's monkey friend, Moko.

Leaving the innocence of his farm to find Moko in the Big Bad City, Raj meets the spunky Nelly, whose bird — like Moko — has disappeared. Another boy, Beau, has similarly lost his dog, whose name is unfit for a family newspaper.

The kids escape a Dickensian fate in child labor and set out to find their pets. At this point, "Boy" becomes a desultory series of campy vignettes, including back stories for Nelly and Beau (the latter's is a particularly wonderful parody of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams), and a weeper of a French movie.

Some might argue that "Boy" peaks during a scene that looks like a bad acid flashback, set to Jo Stafford's demented 1951 hit song "Shrimp Boats." Or it might be the random appearance of Honoré de Balzac, tricked into making indecent mockery of his own name.

There is great fun in being entertained by static shadow puppets (operated by Augustson and Rachel Hynes) while they are voiced by a panel of hilarious voice talents (Stephen Hando, Keri Healey, Shannon Kipp, Evan Mosher, all seated at a table).

"Boys" is the kind of faux-lowbrow comedy that actually wears down one's resistance with shrewd, persistent wit, until one can't help but laugh aloud. It's a good kind of surrender.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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