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Paulanne Simmons

What Doctor Spock Never Told Us


"Shockheaded Peter"
Directed by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott
Little Shubert Theater
422 West 42 St., between 9th Ave. and Dwyer St.
Opened Feb. 22, 2005
Tues., Wed, Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Thurs. at 10 p.m., Sun. at 2 and 7 p.m.
$49.50-$65 ($25 on Thurs.) Telecharge (212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 8, 2005

There's no shortage of the macabre on and off Broadway. "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Sweeny Todd" immediately come to mind. But for sheer delight in the grotesque, nothing beats Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott's "Shockheaded Peter" now lurking at the Little Shubert Theatre.

This tongue-in-cheek enterprise consists of a series of gruesome tales, adapted from the gruesome tales of Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, mostly involving disobedient and disturbed children. They are performed by actors wearing ghoulish makeup and costumes (by Kevin Pollard), sometimes alongside enticingly freakish puppets.

The vignettes are introduced by a fiendish emcee (the extraordinary Julian Bleach), who gives the audience permission "to be cruel for recreational purposes." And the creepy music of The Tiger Lillies accompanies most of the action.

In the title story a childless couple anxiously await their first baby, who turns out to be so ugly they refuse to recognize him as their own. Other stories relate how a boy gets his thumbs snipped off (as the Tiger Lillies sing "Snip Snip") because he refuses to stop sucking it; a rabbit kills a hunter and his entire family; and a little girl is consumed by the fire she sets ("The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches," warble the Tiger Lillies).

Monsters emerge from doorways and menace the unsuspecting. Sometimes the unsuspecting become monsters themselves as their fingers grow to grotesque lengths. But everyone knows the blood is not real. And if the humor defies traditional boundaries, tasteless jokes are frequently the most delicious.

Shockheaded Peter has made it over the Atlantic with the original London cast and has lost none of its energetic quirkiness. Part Punch 'n' Judy, part Theater of Cruelty, Shockheaded Peter will send shivers down your spine and tickle your funny bone at the same time. [Simmons]

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