Playwright Steve Yockey's dark, surreal farce takes place in a land of cartoons, where the ruler is a bratty, curly-haired little girl named Esther (Amy Mucken), who commands her citizens with judicious thumpings from a gigantic yellow hammer. Yet, when mischievous, bespectacled urchin Trouble (Nikitas Menotiades) steals Esther's hammer, chaos sweeps the world of cartoons, sparking an animated, ghoulish war that quickly turns bloody. Puppet Winston (Brian Helm) attempts to sever his marionette strings, while anime forever-best-friends Akane (Julie Terrell) and Yumi (Julie Sanchez) gradually come to murderous blows. Although the story is a none-too-subtle allegory for our own fine government under you know who, Yockey's piece also plays like an Eastern European communist-era political comedy, with farce and cruelty artfully intermingled to create horrifying situations. Director Tiger Reel oversees a fleet-footed, intricately choreographed production, whose frequent leaps from cartoony cuteness to over-the-top violence are both shocking and hilarious. The ensemble's broad mugging belies crafty undercurrents of disturbing unease and paranoia. Particularly deft and shaded turns are offered by Helm's sad-faced puppet, Winston Mucken's monster-child Esther, and Menotiades as the half-clown, half-Che Guevara-esque toon revolutionary. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 1. Continues through March 2, 2008
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