The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, March 26, 2010, Arts

Fup Duck

Salvage Vanguard Theater

March 20

You might think something is missing in this fine adaptation of Jim Dodge's modern, backwoodsy fable Fup, as directed by resident artist Caroline Reck for Trouble Puppet Theater Company.

You might think something more is necessary for a feeling of completeness as Chris Gibson, seated all dignified and authorial at a small table, performs the sole narrator's job with such solid professionalism and such compelling mastery of different voices that you suspect the man to be a star at some major audiobook company.

As the puppeteers maneuver their near-life-sized, articulated mannequins of Granddaddy Jake and the tall boy called Tiny around the darkly appointed stage, their movements smoothly choreographed and well-rehearsed, you might imagine there's a certain lack in this work of not-for-kids theatre.

Even getting caught up in the complex tale of the titular duck and its rivalry with a large wild boar, of Jake's genius-level alchemy of moonshine production and Tiny's joyful and relentless building of fences, of the alcohol-fueled philosophies of American Indian friend-of-the-family Johnny Seven Moons, even then, you might think, "This production needs a little something more." You might say to yourself – as the puppeteers' movements with their papier mâché charges create an illusion of life within the inanimate, as the lighting and the rhythm of action and the narrator's voice conspire to immerse you in this clever, whimsical, tragic, and fleetingly profanity-spiced feat of storytelling – "Gosh, this would work even better if only there were some aspect of, say, live music to flavor the sometimes silent proceedings."

Ladies and gentlemen, Austin's own White Ghost Shivers. The popular acoustic band, as backwoodsy as the story itself, complements the production with a live soundtrack and, occasionally, fourth-wall-breaking interaction between the musicians and the characters. Equipped with strong voices, much whimsy, and a sweetly wielded array of instruments (a banjo, a fiddle, a guitar, an upright bass, a ukulele, a clarinet, and untold percussion), these Shivers serve to make the puppet-show adaptation called Fup Duck a whole and wholly enjoyable experience.

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