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Henson Alternative turns in an uncensored,
puppet-centered improv night

"Stuffed and Unstrung"
Bank of America Theatree
Chicago, IL
June 12, 2012
Stuffed and Unstrung Stuffed and Unstrung

Story by Andy Argyrakis
Publicity Photos

The myriad of puppet characters in the improvisational comedy show "Stuffed and Unstrung" resemble The Muppets to a certain extent, but given the fact that they fall under the Henson Alternative banner, there's definitely have an edge to their personalities. Created by director/producer/writer Brian Henson (also the son of late great legend Jim Henson) and actor/improvisational star Patrick Bristow, the troupe first debuted at 2006's HBO Comedy Festival, took to Off Broadway in 2010, popped up on the following year's Grammy Awards (alongside Cee-Lo Green and Gwyneth Paltrow) and guested on 2012's "Celebrity Apprentice."

Even with all of the contemporary pop culture references, the show's roots go back to the days of the elder Henson and frequent puppeteer partner Frank Oz goofing off before and after the cameras rolled on "The Muppet Show." In other words, "Stuffed and Unstrung" is the type of off-kilter humor that would've never made regular TV, both because of the adult-leaning content and the spontaneous nature.

In keeping with that trend, host Bristow led the younger Henson and a cast of established puppeteers through several topical scenes that were literally shouted out by audience members on the fly. The results were an unbelievably random assortment that ranged from speed dating to a channel surfing battle between "Grey's Anatomy" and "American Gladiators" to a sperm bank visit and an A&E "Biography" episode on RuPaul.

It sure wasn't "The Muppets Take Manhattan," but characters like one-eyed aliens, sharp-witted opossums and talking turtles were certainly endearing, often times elevating scenes that wouldn't be as funny if spoken by mere humans. Attendees had the opportunity to either watch all the action unfurl on two big screens (where the puppeteers weren't visible) or simply scope out all their engineering at center stage, which was quite impressive considering all their complex movements and coordination.

Though "Stuffed and Unstrung" certainly took tons of skill to pull off, segments were either laugh out loud hysterical or fell completely flat. A "James Bond" scene casting Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the villain was a total disaster and a cheerleading segment based around a fan shouting out the phrase "Take the Money and Run" turned vaguely sexual instead of capitalizing on Chicago's obvious (and potentially uproarious) history of corruption.

But Henson faithful need not fear as every show has the potential to be completely different and one night's disaster could just as easily evolve into the following evening's triumph. And no matter what stop of the Chicago residency one attends, the theme that's certain to tie them all together is the Henson company's comedic genius, which as "Stuffed and Unstrung" demonstrated time and time again, still has no trouble keeping up with the times.

"Stuffed and Unstrung" continues at the Bank of America Theatre through June 17. For additional details, visit

Stuffed and Unstrung Stuffed and Unstrung

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