It’s a good sign when you go to see a play and there’s someone on stage painting props five minutes before the show begins.
That was the case with “Action Sequence,” which opened at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on Thursday night. Sitting at a bar to the side of the stage, HOBT intern Madi Ballis calmly painted a beer bottle with a lovely marbled yellow and orange. She kept at it right until showtime. And she continued painting her elaborate label throughout most of the hourlong show.
Director Steve Ackerman’s puppet spoof of the action-movie genre, codirected by Lizz Windnagel, proved high-concept and low-budget. The audience finds itself surrounded by the show’s set, consisting mostly of cardboard. A cityscape takes up the main playing area in front, with the giant wing of an airplane hanging from the ceiling on one side and a baseball scoreboard on the other that lists strikes, outs and — of course — the body count.
A video camera remained focused on Ballis’ bottle throughout, projecting images onto a large screen.
You don’t find out the purpose of the camera setup until nearly the end of the show. No spoilers — but suffice it to say the payoff is well worth it. That goes for a lot of the complex details that make up the magic of “Action Sequence.” The show is full of extensively thought out particulars that may last but a moment.
There are zip lines, harnesses, cardboard missiles, flying babies, toy cars and monsters, as the actors race through chase scenes and epic battles.
Actor Peter Rusk vocalizes sound effects for all the action, accompanied by a live orchestra and singers. He also voices the show’s main character and first-person narrator, Studs.
But Studs is physically portrayed by the strapping Shelby Richardson, who shows off her acrobatic prowess in the role.
The puppetry antics prove delightful and charming, but the show suffers from the same problem that plagues action movies more generally: There’s not much of an actual story.
However, audiences are given a small dose of character development by way of a short musical back story interlude, complete with overhead projector drawings. And just as great action movies can thrive without plot, “Action Sequence” entertains with its visual delights.
The show impresses with its seamless shifting of scale — from miniature to life-size to giant spectacles. There are even miniature humans — a group of children who steal the show in an excellent bar-fight scene. If they can’t win over your heart, you probably don’t have one.
Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities arts journalist and critic.