A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch



A puppet-filled portrait of a prodigy in peril

Written by Kara Davidson

Directed by Shade Murray


RUN DATES: September 2-October 23, 2016

TIMES: Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm (no shows 9/15 and 9/22)

GROUPS: Save up to 30%! Start here! 

PRICES: $15 - $35

AGES: Dangerously dark and decidedly violent, this production is best enjoyed by adults and teens. Read the Parents' Guide for content warnings.

RUN TIME: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission


"Very smart and progressive.... Another gutsy world premiere from The House!"
"A knockout performance from Cartwright... It really is a killer piece of acting."
Chicago Tribune

"Wildly and wonderfully entertaining!"
 ChiIL Live


"A virtuosic visual treat!"
Chicago Theatre Review


"A gifted cast that deftly finesses aspects of puppetry, clowning, farce, dance and music, and, best of all, introduces audiences to the exceptionally beguiling talent of a young actress named Sarah Cartwright."
Chicago Sun-Times


"Come one, come all. Come small, come tall. ‘Tis time, dear Punch. Dear Punch, ‘tis time.”


Charlotte, a young orphan, has made a life for herself thieving on the streets of London. She wiggles her way into employment for an eccentric Italian puppeteer, Pietro, collecting coins from his crowds and watching out for the law. They quickly become an efficient pair under Pietro's gruff and focused attention. As their partnership flourishes, so does Charlotte’s vivid imagination. Soon, the violent Punch and Judy puppets jump to life as she conjures up her own spins on the classic tales. But Pietro may not want his protégé pulling the strings.


Our "merry little play" reveals the dark underbelly of 18th century London as Charlotte’s reality blurs with the frantic world of Punch and Judy. Filled with live actors, hand puppets, shadow puppetry, and marionettes, the story uncovers the dangers lurking in an unjust world.



Show Dates: Sep 2 2016 to Oct 23 2016 Location:

Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St, Chicago


  • Shade Murray


  • Kara Davidson


  • Adrian Danzig
  • Mister Punch
  • Sarah Cartwright
  • Will Casey
    Officer / Constable, and others
  • Joey the Clown and others
  • Carolyn Hoerdemann
    Judy, Blind Woman, and others
  • Echaka Agba
    Polly, and others
  • Bum, Baby, Crocodile, and others
  • Owais Ahmed
    Wealthy Man, Flirt, and others


  • Assistant Director
  • Joyanna Cox
    Assistant Costume Designer
  • Grover Hollway
    Assistant Sound Designer
  • Emily Breyer
    Assistant Puppet Designer
  • Colin Morgan
    Assistant Props Designer
  • Jon Beal
    Assistant Choreographer
  • Rachael Koplin
    Assistant Stage Manager
  • Brandon McCallister
    Stage Management Intern
  • Emily Swanson
    Wardrobe Supervisor
  • Bobby Huggins
    Technical Director
  • Jericka Hucke
    Costume Manager
  • John Kelly
    Master Electrician
  • Josh Light
    Production Management Intern


  • Scenic Designer
  • Izumi Inaba
    Costume Designer
  • Mike Durst
    Lighting Designer
  • Sound Designer and Recorded Music
  • John Fournier
    Live Music Composer
  • Jesse Mooney-Bullock
    Puppet Designer
  • David Wooley
  • Adam Goldstein
    Dialect Coach
  • Mary Williamson
    Makeup Effects
  • Eleanor Kahn
    Properties Designer
  • Stage Manager
Puppet-filled play "A Comedical Tragedy for MIster Punch"
Recommended - Jeff Committee
We're Jeff recommended!
Highly Recommended - Chicago Critic
"I was pleased and entertained by the skill of this production...A Comedical Tragedy For Mister Punch is a sophisticated theatrical work that delivers." - Chicago Critic
Another Gutsy World Premiere - Chicago Tribune
"A knockout performance from Cartwright, clearly a formidable young talent, whose intensity does manage to hold many things together...It really is a killer piece of acting" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
Highly Recommended - ChiIL Live
"It's not only wildly and wonderfully entertaining, but a compelling commentary on the value of street art and in fact, art's place in society." - ChiIL Live
Punch Parents' Guide

Puppets puppets!

We hear the word puppets and it is easy to have nostalgia for the imaginative joy that they certainly provide. But, parents be advised! This is not your average puppet show! A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch has tragedy written right in the title! We’re recommending it for adults and teens.

We’re telling a bit of a fictional origin story for The Punch and Judy puppet show, which has been a longtime staple of British seaside entertainment.  But most of us have only a light recognition of the show, if any. Mister Punch, a squealing hunchback, has a wife named Judy. And they beat each other with clubs and pots and pans…a lot. Punch beats his servant, he throws his crying baby out the window, and uses his club to beat (and often kill!) dogs, crocodiles, neighbors, the policeman, and in some shows, the devil himself. Why, oh why, you might ask…why would we cheer for such a villain? Because, for all his antics, Punch is funny.

Some of our classic cartoons do the same: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Ren and Stimpy, Tom and Jerry, Itchy and Scratchy, etc… all of these characters use violence to help them out-wit and defeat their comic counterpart. We watch and laugh as Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, is blown up by TNT, and hit on the head with an anvil from ACME because we know his body is actually an accordion and he will sort himself out in the end.

Yet in our live action play, some violence becomes more real, and more visceral. Live actors play life-size puppets that hit each other audible whacks. They attack, they spin each other, they roll each other offstage. Mister Punch talks often about who is “killed” or who has “dropped dead”. The actors are also wear masks (which, honestly, are both beautiful and alarming at first view) that make them look more “puppet-like”. Joey the Clown could be nightmare fodder!

BUT! We have our protagonist, 10 year old Charlotte, leading us through this puppet world of mayhem. In the first Act of this play, she befriends Pietro’s puppet creations, which in turn makes us love them, too.

Here’s the not-so-secret spoiler: Act 2 is where we dive into tragedy. The fanciful and playful antics of Act 1 are tainted by imminent danger. An Officer has been tailing Pietro, and as he closes in, Charlotte is exposed to a cruel and cold reality of the world she is living in. Here are some specifics of the play that merit a warning or a conversation for our viewers (young and older alike!) as the violence begins to lose its comedic sheen.


  • Pietro, who becomes Charlotte reluctant mentor, does not set many good examples, though Charlotte still soaks up his every action and word like a sponge. His eccentricities and behavior startle Charlotte, and his drinking leads him to violent outbursts (vocal and physical threats).
  • Polly, the barmaid, has an intimate relationship with Pietro (the punchman) that is fairly transactional. She's not the "prostitute with the heart of gold", but Charlotte (the young apprentice, 10 years old) does misinterpret Polly and Pietro's relationship as "courting" when it is something different. They use suggestive language with each other and are seen kissing and holding each other onstage but nothing else.
  • There is some crass language and rude jokes, though many insults or taunts in the puppet world have been twisted into puns or PG name-calling (“mouthy stinkhole”).  There is some stronger and suggestive language and dialogue with the Officer later in the play, especially when he insults Polly and accuses her of prostitution, and of “spreading her legs.”
  • The Officer in the play is corrupt and driven by money. In his pursuit, he becomes quite rough - in dialogue, tone, and action. He uses intimidation and force to influence other characters, and is physically violent towards Polly, Charlotte, and Pietro. Blood is drawn onstage, notably when he uses a knife to cut Charlotte’s thigh.
  • Charlotte is thrown around quite a bit. She is threatened, attacked, spanked, verbally accosted, and abandoned. She is 10 years old (though the actor playing her, Sarah, is a grown up). The reminder of her age can make some of the violence towards her (especially the emotional violence she suffers by experiencing this cruelty so young) more hard to watch.
  • There is a hanging, and it is done by a live actor. He is playing a puppet character at the time, but it nonetheless startling to watch a human being hung onstage, in full view of the audience.
  • There are stitches performed onstage, with fake stage blood. If any viewers are particular squeamish, I recommend sitting further back in the audience.


I hope this gives you an adequate depiction of what to expect from A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch and allows you to prepare your students or children for before they come to see it, or helps you decide that it ultimately may not be appropriate for their age range. It is a darker (and even at times sinister) story by nature, but one ultimately of hope and resilience. It’s about being broken down and beaten by expectations of what our life might be. It’s about the obstacles that we encounter that force us to pick ourselves back up again and continue to the next page of our life’s journey. As LE CROCODILE says in Scene 21: “It takes patience and persistence, like with all obstacles, my dears.”


- Kara Davidson, Playwright


Here’s a preview of a few designs for the protagonists and puppets-turned-people in the upcoming world premiere of A COMEDICAL TRAGEDY FOR MISTER PUNCH!


 Joey The Clown


I haven’t named the dishes yet Master Punch!
I suppose there are the plates, bowls, salad bowls, finger bowls,— 


Did you say sausages?


Oh no, sir. You see, I can’t say “sausages” 


You just said it! 


Oh no, sir. I didn’t say “ it”. I said “sausages”. 


Catch Joey the Clown, played by our very own Joey Steakley, and all the other puppets-turned-people in the world premiere this fall! Who can keep track! Bring us some sausages, sirs!




WOW! Check out these side-by-side costume and puppet renderings from our incredible designers Izumi Inaba (costumes) and Jesse Mooney-Bullock (puppets)! Carolyn Hoerdemann scales the Judy puppet up to life-size this fall!


Mister Punch


“Ladies and gentlemen, how do you do?
If you are all happy, me all happy too. Stop and hear my merry little play.
If me make you laugh, me not make you pay.” 


Company member Johnny Arena returns to the House, after his most recent appearance in Death and Harry Houdini, to bring the famed puppet Mister Punch to life as a human! 






“I am an “exceptional”. That means that I can do something no one else can.
So therefore­ergo­thereupon­thus: my mind is far above what your pre­formed brain can comprehend. For that matter, above what most humankind can comprehend.
Which means also­thither­wherefore­to: I can be prone to unpredictable and unexplicable behavior.


Meet Pietro (played by Adrian Danzig), the frugal, self-centered, and skilled Punch and Judy Puppet Master, and many others in A COMEDICAL TRAGEDY FOR MISTER PUNCH! When Pietro encounters Charlotte, a young orphan living on the streets, they form a business partnership. But when Charlotte starts changing the show, can Pietro keep up and step up?




“Come one, come all, come short come tall, ‘tis time, dear Punch. Dear Punch, ‘tis time.”


As a young girl fending for herself, Charlotte (Sarah Cartwright) learns to be distrustful of the world around her. But when an Italian puppeteer takes her under his wing, can she find a way to trust again, in the world and in her imagination? Come watch Charlotte find her way through the charmed and dangerous world of Punch and Judy puppet shows in our newest world premiere A COMEDICAL TRAGEDY FOR MISTER PUNCH!



Mister Punch, he loves his audience. And his audience loves him, yes?




Then he only needs to win. Victory. He wins by killing everyone who gets in his way. The end.


I think Mister Punch would get lonely without someone.


How do I take the hand out of your mouth, puppet?


Make sure you nab your tickets to this dark puppet-filled portrait of a prodigy in peril!

Post-Show Discussion: Saturday, October 8
Stick around after the 8pm show for a post-show discussion about the source material, the themes of the story, and the big questions the play raises for us. FREE


Insider Intro: Sunday, October 16
Before the 7pm show join us for a discussion about the show with the lead creators! FREE