Come ‘Unstrung’ with funny improv puppet antics 

Maybe I got lucky on the opening night of the improvisational puppet show “Stuffed and Unstrung,” created by Brian Henson (son of famed Muppet master Jim Henson) and improv talent Patrick Bristow, who emcees.

But I don’t think so.

Given the lightning-quick wit, imagination and physical skills of the six black-clad Jim Henson Company puppeteers, including Brian, I suspect just about every performance — which varies in response to shouted-out audience suggestions for titles, setting, character names and occupations, etc. — has a good dollop of belly laughs if not falling-in-the-aisle hysteria.

You won’t have seen anything in the puppet or the improv departments quite like this.

The humans brandish their “Miskreant Puppets” overhead in order to appear on camera — 80 in all, everything from weasels to hot dogs to endearing little humanoids, all of whom sit patiently in three rows upstage waiting for their turn to be activated at the cry of “Puppet up!”

The puppeteers watch three monitors on the floor below. My eyes were mostly glued to the two large screens, where the improvised scenes are cleverly projected, accompanied by a keyboardist and light operator.

Bristow introduces and launches the action, sometimes stepping into the audience to better hear suggestions and, twice, to pull audience members up to participate. (An agreeably game David was especially hilarious manipulating his puppet, who turned out to be a blind bricklayer.)

A few of the skits are set pieces, re-enactments culled from the Henson archives — one originally created by Jim Henson, the other by his colleague Frank Oz. Another, only partially improvised — a dance number — is so technologically clever that I won’t try to describe it.

The puppeteers’ ability to synchronize improvised dialogue and complicated technology — not to mention their fine musical skills — is truly amazing.

It should also be noted that the show is a wee bit naughty.


Stuffed and Unstrung

Presented by SHN and SF Sketchfest

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 7 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 27
Tickets: $30 to $65
Contact: (888) 746-1799,

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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