Theater archives

Swamp Juice Is the Work of a Shadow-Puppet Master


If you have kids, don’t bring them to see Swamp Juice. Or, rather, do, definitely, take them to this whole-family pleaser — just know in advance that they’ll almost certainly want to try some of what they see at home.

Jeff Achtem, founder of Melbourne’s Bunk Puppets and mastermind of this zany shadow-puppet tale, is a consummate DIYer who isn’t afraid to impart a few tricks of the trade. His arsenal includes a scrap of foam worn on the arm via a tube sock to create a snail’s shell; cardboard faces that a well-placed thumb can make speak; his own head of spittle-greased hair; and a party horn that, when inflated, becomes a hungry baby bird. Projectors and screens do the rest, along with rubber balls, plastic foliage, and pom-poms. Audience participation is joyfully required.

Gags aside, Swamp Juice tells a gently menacing story about food-chain predation (snail-snake-bird-man-monster) on the bayou. Nothing to fear, though: Achtem is an artiste who not only understands the value of perfectly timed flatulence but has also mastered the craft of homemade 3-D. A high-speed chase by sea and air with paper jellyfish and wooden snakes gets the entire audience screaming delightedly in their seats.

Don’t stop as you leave the theater: Achtem is selling puppet kits in the lobby. Or, rather, do. Swamp Juice is an old-fashioned hoot that, just in time for the holidays, keeps on giving.