If seven years of marriage result in an itch, three centuries of nuptial bliss conjure a far more nagging affliction. The Confessions of Punch and Judy, a tripartite collaboration between director Raymond Bobgan and performers Tannis Kowalchuk and Ker Wells, imagines that the bickering puppet couple of Restoration fairs has survived into the present era. Punch (a blue-suited Wells) and Judy (Kowalchuk, resplendent in blond curls and red wrap dress) sit placidly in a suburban living room before resorting to their usual routine of pinching, slapping, and hitting with sticks. Also, they sing.
Kowalchuk and Wells are fine physical performers (and Bobgan must deserve credit for their impeccable timing), but this talent doesn’t hide the banality of the show. How enthralling can an examination of the inner lives of puppets possibly be? Nothing much is gained from the constant genre switches either. From commedia buffoonery to mask work to puppet show to interpretive dance, they hit the same chord of marital malaise. The schematic design—primary colors, black-and-white tiles, monochrome lighting effects—compounds the dullness.
Though their contretemps occasionally promise Ionesco levels of absurdity and existential terror, they invariably degenerate into dreary psychological realism. Bobgan won’t leave well enough alone—every provocative image must endure translation into domestic homily, each irrationality must be elucidated. Why do they beat each other so? They’re lonely, they’re scared, etc. As Wells explains smugly at the play’s close, “It’s never been easy to find a way to live and love together.” Yes, and not a treat to watch, either.