Not for children says the programs subhead and theyre not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment thats partFrench vaudeville and partBritish Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bells set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpsons charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richters deliberately rambling lighting design. Little Red Riding Hood is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophiles wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom hes just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. The Ugly Ducking is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. Rapunzel is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while Hansel and Gretel turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, theres no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, You thought the famine hasnt come to my house! the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through February 21. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
Thu., July 31, 8:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 7, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 15, 7 p.m.; Feb. 20-21, 8:30 p.m. Starts: July 31. Continues through Feb. 20, 2008