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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Madge should live on, after 'Shack'

Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Madge and poodle sidekick Rocky take a trip down memory lane when an ex-husband's plans threaten her establishment.

Courtesy Earle Ernst Lab Theatre

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11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Mānoa




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Rejoice, midnight fun-seekers, you now have a new destination!

It's "Madge's Shimmy Shack," where at least for two more performances you can be entertained by a smart mouth and partial puppet nudity.

The 40-minute work is the creation of Morgan Lane-Tanner, who clearly has a knack for audaciously projecting an alter ego into an inanimate object. That object is Madge, a life-sized puppet animated by two puppeteers in black and given a wonderfully animated voice by one of them, Jen Dickenson.

Madge is a former stripper, now managing a burlesque house and intending to celebrate an anniversary. But the evening turns, instead, to a forced retirement, as her only living ex-husband calls in his ownership to turn the place into a tapas bar.

Once that's established, the night becomes a trip down memory lane and a performance guaranteed to close the Shack with a bang. While this brings on supporting acts, Madge and her monologues are clearly the star focus.

Physically, Madge has a startlingly red Prince Valiant wig, bulging, pingpong-ball eyes, a lantern jaw, inflated lips, and limbs like rice-filled tube socks. Her breasts have gone south, but still sport tassels, and her wasplike waist only accentuates a developing pot belly.

Like all good puppets and ventriloquist dummies, she comes alive when she begins to speak brash, demanding, and a force that one would not be eager to cross. Her best recurring bit is to call out a reluctant stage hand to serve as a human bench when her feet begin to hurt.

Madge's second-banana and foil is a similarly bug-eyed French poodle named Rocky voiced and operated by Corinne Powell. While Madge needs another presence to push against, Rocky and the other supporting characters aren't bold enough to give her the comic resistance she needs.

The Minnie Madge is too small and placed too low on the stage to be effective. The sock-puppet snake figures of Antonio and Miss Cleopatra nearly disappear by comparison, and Legs Laru is essentially a pair of tap-dancing breasts that are a costume piece and not a puppet at all.

The literal furry stage "hands" that pull back the curtain are a nice touch. Soupy Sales used them on his television show, giving them garbled, growling speech and naming them White Fang and Black Tooth.

But although the "Shimmy Shack" is closing, one hopes that Madge isn't consigned to a closet trunk and that she goes on to appear in other venues with new characters. And that she keeps that wonderful voice.

Joseph T. Rozmiarek has been reviewing theater performances in Hawai'i since 1973.