Cartooon: Sugar crash

A moment from <i>Cartooon,</i> playing this week at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

A moment from Cartooon, playing this week at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

Walking into In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre Sunday evening, I was greeted with a great, great cacophony.

In one corner a string quartet played. At other spots around the lobby, there were singers. None were performing the same piece. Instead, they seemed to have been chosen as a way to drive the incoming audience mad.

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To add to the vibe, patrons could choose normal theatrical refreshments (like wine) or indulge in a bowl of Coco Puffs or a Pop Tart.

All of this left the audience jazzed up like a five-year-old on a Saturday morning, high on pure-sugar cereal and ready for mayhem. The puppeteers, musicians, singers, and other assistants provided that during Cartooon, which brought the rubbery physics and storytelling madness of classic animated shorts to the stage.

Conceived by Steve Ackerman, Cartooon tells, and retells, a "lost" animated short starring Tommy "da talking Turtle" and his rival, an evil crocodile. The two battle it out in an increasingly crazy series of scenes that change not just in intensity, but in scale. What starts as cute-if-crude-looking rod puppets becomes pieces that are fully worn by the puppeteers and finally into massive creations that need to be controlled by pulleys.

The changes in scale and the theatrical setting give the creators a chance to really stretch out and be inventive. A simple "tongue" gag (you know, cartoon character sees a hot woman, tongue rolls out of their mouth onto the floor) turns epic during the middle, full-sized section of the show, as the red rope representing the tongue is rolled out along the floor of the theater, into the lobby, out the door and then (as we see in a live video) down the street to order a taco.

By the end, the various performers and the audience are exhausted by the masses of exploded dynamite, along with the falling pianos, kitchen sinks, safes, and anvils. The stage is littered with pieces of cardboard puppets, broken crockery, and bread crumbs, and the company looks shell shocked (I imagine the audience is wearing a similar expression).

It may be too much in the end (the show really does outstay its welcome by 10 minutes or so) but it definitely is fun, funny, and exciting for most of its hour-long length.


7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through 26, midnight Saturday
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.721.2535 or visit online.