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The News Paper.

U of T's independent Weekly

Issue 19 - 2004-01-29

Puppets that kill and kill and kill
Our reviewer loses her mind over Dear Boss


Dear Boss had me at a “puppet show about Jack the Ripper.”

It has all the aspects of something that rocks: the macabre, a Victorian serial killer, irreverence, prostitutes, and the Elephant Man.

I really shouldn’t have to tell you anything more about Dear Boss, you should all be dropping your papers and buying tickets for it RIGHT NOW.

Still not convinced? Okay, so you remember that movie From Hell? It came out a couple years ago? Had Johnny Depp on opium and Heather Graham with fake red hair and an even faker accent? Wasn’t terrible, but just wasn’t all that good?

So, Dear Boss is kind of like From Hell, only if From Hell was good and was a stage play with all but three characters being played by huge deranged puppets, which are operated by the three actors themselves (think the stage version of The Lion King, but with dismemberment instead of singing).

So, not only do the three actors each have to play a whole pile of characters with myriad accents and convince the audience that these are all different people, but they have to operate these insane puppets. And they do it. Well.

Dear Boss is still basically a whodunit, but the detective is American Charles Fort, who calls himself a “prophet of the unexplained” and has come to London to examine mysterious phenomena like fish falling from the sky in Regent Park. Fort, played by Darren Keay, enlists the help of Joseph Merrick, also known as the Elephant Man. Why? Because he’s part elephant, he’ll remember the clues. Don’t try to fight it.

They meet and befriend prostitute Mary Kelly (Rebecca Northan), whose relationship with her lover Joseph Barnett (playwright, puppet designer and Ripper suspect Montague Druitt’s great-great nephew Eric Woolfe) is on the rocks. They begin to realize, by way of famed psychic Helena Blavatsky and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, that Mary will be Jack’s next victim.

The puppets are all scary and stylized as if they belong in a German expressionist movie, with these little knee high numbers that act out the murders. Hung on the stage walls for the remainder of the show, the body count grows. Then there are the ones that are person-sized, and the actors wear them kind of like sleeves. By the end of the show, there were knee high puppets talking to the real people and you just can’t even believe you’re watching this happen right now onstage in front of you.

Even though it’s dark and has all this creepy Lewis Carroll stuff with giant caterpillars harassing people in their dream, Dear Boss is funny. To wit: because it was 1888, the police were so dense about serial killers that they targeted Jews because they couldn’t believe an educated Englishman would be so depraved (that’s not the funny part), but the freaking Elephant Man spouts modern psychoanalytic theory. Everyone’s sure they’ve got the guy until Joseph Merrick points out that the murders seem to be an extension of the sexual act, so clearly this gay man couldn’t have done it.

Dear Boss combines the uncanny with historical accuracy – and PUPPETS. What’s not to love?