Theater

Bloody Henry: Puppet Blowjob! Kingly Masturbation! Talking Vagina!

Bloody Henry: Puppet Blowjob! Kingly Masturbation! Talking Vagina!

Two-hour puppet show. Two-hour puppet show. Two-hour puppet show. Two. Hour. Puppet. Show. Seventy-three minutes into Bloody Henry, the all-puppet reconstruction of the life 'n' loves 'n' stillborns 'n' severed heads of King Henry VIII, the lights come up. Intermission. "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived," I count on my fingers, remembering ye olde mnemonic. Seventy-three minutes and we were only through "divorced, beheaded." Two wives in. FOUR WIVES TO GO. Holy papal dispensation on a communion wafer, this shit is long.

Long, but awesome. Though needlessly heavy on the minutiae of Tudor politics, the puppetry (mostly Bunraku action, supplemented by shadow puppets and cut-paper animation) is magnificent. The uncanny little dolls seem to breathe and think and emote, their slapstick foibles and offhand peripheral movements as convincing as any human actor's.

Bloody Henry tells its eponymous tale with brutally dark humor and frank sexuality. (Puppet blowjob! Kingly masturbation! Talking vagina!) The voice-acting is superb—particularly Gavin Cummins as the increasingly blustering Henry. You can hear him get fatter. There are occasional sarcastic bright spots ("Dear Lord: Thank you for my daughter. She is very nice. Though I would surely appreciate a son! Your servant, Henry VIII"), but the unrelenting blackness feels cruel at times. Watching Catherine of Aragon's 900 stillbirths, each accompanied by a fetus tossed from the ramparts with a marshy "sploosh," gave my womb sympathy pains.

Creator/director/writer/designer/fabricator Brian Kooser seems a bit in love with his own writing, which is not where his genius lies. His genius lies in puppets and creating surreal, macabre moments: Henry's creepy hallucinations; a massive, gliding, locomotive pope (half-pope/half-building—terrifying); the eerie, aforementioned breathing of the puppets; Anne Boleyn's shrieks. If it were half as long, I would have enjoyed it twice as much. recommended

 

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