ONE-PART PUPPET SHOW, ONE-PART SPY-THRILLER SEND-UP, with a steady diet of feline-inspired puns in-between, You Only Live Forever Once is the latest in an amusing string of Fringe shows from the always-reliable Four Humors Theater. Here, the storyline follows Secret Agent Dave Johnson (Ryan Lear) on his global pursuit of Kitty Courgarton (Matt Spring), a cat-human hybrid whose evil deeds somehow ensnarl the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
The best thing about this show is its construction: for starters, the special effects (crashing rocket ships, gravity-defying sports cars) are confined to the realm of puppetry. Created by Jason Ballweber, who also serves as the show’s director, these puppets are neither artful nor technically excellent. Then again, they’re not supposed to be. Think two-dimensional Barbie- and Ken-like figures on sticks, like tiny corn pups bobbing across the puppet theater. And the puppets’ crudeness is only one layer of cheesiness in this unmistakably campy romp, designed to lampoon the spy-thriller genre in general (an easy target).
Meanwhile, all but the most vulgar snippets of human drama are handled by live actors. To be sure, there’s nothing earnest about Agent Johnson’s tangles with Kitty Cougarton and his pet wildcat. Nor is there anything sexy about the Agent’s tangos with a sultry lady-spy (Rachel Petrie). I admired the boyish enthusiasm with which actor Ryan Lear tackled the role of Dave Johnson, a tuxedoed bimbo with good looks of nearly grotesque proportion. Playing the sociopath Kitty Cougarton, Matt Spring is funny as well, with his smarmy mannerisms and feline smirk. As for Rachel Petrie, who plays Gretchen Femme Fatale — her straightforward approach here is less satisfying. She’s all dead stares and tousled hair, an approximation of Angelina Jolie as action hero. On the upside, Petrie looks amazing in her red dress!
All in all, this wasn’t the funniest Four Humors show I’ve seen. The clichés are part of the problem: the spy-thriller is already a hackneyed genre, that’s why it’s so funny to mock. Why, then, does this ensemble-written script rely so heavily on familiar puns and tired spoofs? The truth is, generally speaking, the broad humor made me groan more than laugh. I was more amused by the subtler jabs at the spy-thriller genre, like the play’s brassy original theme song and the pearly smile favored by Agent Johnson. So, I lingered on these latter qualities and enjoyed myself just fine.
Related performance details:
You Only Live Forever Once, presented by Four Humors Theater is at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Remaining shows: Sunday, 8/7 (8:30 pm); Wednesday, 8/10 (5:30 pm); Thursday, 8/11 (8:30 pm); Saturday, 8/13 (5:30 pm)
About the author: Christy DeSmith is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. Formerly an editor at The Rake and Mpls.St.Paul magazines, DeSmith now writes about art, culture, and interesting personalities for a handful of local and national titles.