Cardboard melee: 'Action Sequence' is one epic cartoony fight

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers

A hero drops into the Avalon Theater, hanging from a helicopter. A bad guy gets impaled with a six-foot knife. A real live baby flies out of a bazooka. That’s all in just the opening credits of Action Sequence, an anarchic parody being staged for summer fun by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

With a 5 o’clock shadow and some gnarly chest hair, Shelby Richardson plays “Studs,” a pastiche of ’80s action-movie protagonists (although what passes for a plot in Action Sequence makes Rambo look like Shakespeare). Basically, the show is just an excuse to let Richardson battle her way back and forth across the theater for an hour, leaving an astonishing wake of cardboard carnage.

The ensemble-created spectacle, directed by Steve Ackerman with Lizz Windnagel, seats the audience facing sideways in the theater. You list a little to port due to the slanted floor, but that doesn’t matter, because you spend almost as much time looking left, right, backward, and up as you do looking forward. Richardson and seven puppeteers use all the available space and then some.

Peter Rusk delivers hard-boiled narration from an onstage podium. When Richardson speaks, it’s usually to deliver a punny groaner of a catchphrase. (“Knife to meet you!”) From the back of the auditorium, a dozen musicians under the direction of Drew Kellum perform an appropriately sweeping score, except when they’re covering Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights.”

The nonstop production jumps from one showpiece to the next, as Richardson battles cartoonish baddies who pursue her via planes, trains, and automobiles. There’s a long car chase that involves as many overturned fruit carts as you could possibly hope for, a face-off aboard a train that speeds around the auditorium at various scales, and a rope-bridge battle straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Making all this happen requires endless invention involving cardboard models and elaborate rigging. Just when you think there can’t be any more room for hidden props to drop from the ceiling, something else comes flying in. Eventually Richardson does battle with Satan himself, the dark lord towering in puppet form behind a fire-spitting minion.

The best sequence, though, is a bar fight in which Richardson takes on a bunch of children. That sounds terrible on paper, but it’s all staged for laughs, and no one’s having more fun than Richardson’s young assailants, busting billiard cues and snarling into a camera. When Studs slides one of the lil’ thugs down the bar, you know there’s going to be a fruit cart waiting for the kid to smash into.

If the MPAA rated plays, Action Sequence would get a PG for low-grade cussing and the constant wreaking of virtual havoc. Mid-elementary kids will love it, and they’ll be super jealous of the boy who gets to have a beer bottle shattered on his head.

Action Sequence
Avalon Theater/In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
612-721-2535; through June 24