No Strings Attached at Horrific Puppet Affair 2018 

Now running through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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Chaz Gentry

It was opening night of the seventh-annual Horrific Puppet Affair, and the audience's exasperation with the show's puppet emcee was palpable. The Oct. 19 show had been plagued by technical difficulties, and the beleaguered emcee had trotted onto the stage one too many times to stall with anecdotes about the soundtrack to the 1998 film Godzilla.

This was the first time HomeGrown Theatre had thrown HPA at its new home at the Gem Center for the Arts, and the little jewel of Boise's theater scene had decided to go big. The presentation was in a new theater setting with elaborate staging and plenty of free rein for artists to adapt their Halloween-y visions to the stage. In this case, the witch's broomstick didn't quite get off the ground.

That isn't to say the whole show was weak. Several of the skits were HPA at its pithy best, starting with the opener, "Prize Tomatoes," about the secret ingredient in an elderly couple's garden fertilizer. In another, a murder of red birds deliver vengeance against a boy who kills a member of their flock.

Author Alan Heathcock participated as a playwright for the first time this year, and delivered one of the Halloween special's all-time greats, about a soft-talking goat.

"The main thing is, I got an idea," he said. "I sat down one night after several whiskeys and cranked something out."

For the record, the whiskey in question was Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel.

There were also sound, light and set issues. Early on, an audio cutout interrupted a skit halfway, leaving puppeteers in the lurch and summoning the emcee to the stage. In another, the lights shut off unexpectedly.

The quality of the skits varied. The final act, "The Alligator" by Chad Shohet, was a gorgeous and technical projection show that ran long; and a skit about a Mesoamerican human sacrifice starred puppets that were so small they were difficult for the audience to see. Another, about two heckling Halloween candy baskets, was sub par, both in content and execution.

The flaws in this year's HPA, however, shouldn't be a reason to stay away. Tech glitches can be fixed; authentic, raw theater like the Horrific Puppet Affair is a Boise treasure; and Alan Heathcock's startling tale about a billy goat is worth the price of admission.

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