Swamp Juice

Jeff Achtem; Photo by ANDREW WUTTKE

“Don’t worry, this is not a documentary,” mumbled the puppeteer at one point in show as an aside to the audience. This stood out, as it is one of the very few lines spoken in this 60-minute piece packed with imagery created by shadows. And a documentary it is not. This work entitled Swamp Juice that just opened at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village is an optic wonder for the theatre-goer. Using shadow puppets made out of scraps, shards, junk, and waste, sole cast member doing the casting, Jeff Achtem illustrates the story of and old man harvesting creatures out of swamp, but these creatures all have a minds of their own.

First, I have to say that this is a very talented man performing this show. Somewhere along the way, someone must have told him he was very good at shadow puppetry, and he pursued it. Well, they were very right. It takes a lot to keep me entertained by shadows for one hour, but his work is image mastery. It was, I can say with confidence, the best shadow puppetry I have ever seen. Now there’s one for the marquis.

The show itself, is for kids. It simple; the main plot hitch is that a snail is eaten by a bird. However, Achtem’s love for each of the shadows made shine in this piece, creating snails, snakes, fish, mice, birds, old men, jellyfish, and more!

With it’s lack of plot and invested characters, I have a hard time calling this a play. . . but if this were at Disney World, it would be worth the two-hour wait to get inside.

There is one very good thing about this production; It’s short. 60 minutes. Long enough for the kids to become restless. . . the grownups, too for that matter.

This show highlights this man’s incredible talent and offers a vehicle for him to share the spectacle of shadows with a group of people. The best part about this is that he is having the time of his life up there casting these shadows. He kisses his devices that cast the shadows before he uses them. He gets lost in the characters he’s creating, and using only noises, light and lack-there-of, he brings them to life.

This show features a very impressive 3-D shadow puppet finale. This is using the blue-red glasses and everything. BRAVO. You have done a feat in the Off-Broadway theatre that no one has ever thought of doing;   3-D Shadow Puppets. . . And I doubt anyone will think to do it again.

The original score for the piece by David Henry, Nick Carver, and Tristan Kelly is negligible to the production, lacking any sense of originality. It doesn’t help in aiding the story past providing ambient noise for this man’s talent.

Why should you go, you may ask? Well, you should go if you can convince your mommy and daddy to take you. If you don’t need your mommy and daddy’s permission to go to the theatre, then you will have a questionable time.

This show is great for kids and those with the imagination of a kid. If you’re not one of those, then stay away or you will find yourself having the most expensive 60-minute nap of your life.

Swamp Juice runs from November 26 until January 4 at the Barrow Street Theatre. For tickets visit www.barrowstreettheatre.com. This piece is performed and devised by Jeff Achtem. Orginal Score by David Henry, Nick Carver, and Tristan Kelly.


Daniel Dunlow

Author: Daniel Dunlow

Daniel Dunlow began his theatrical career at the age of 10 and hasn’t stopped since. Since then he has acted, directed, choreographed, designed, and musically directed for over 75 productions across the country. He holds a Lifetime Achievement Award from Lakeland Theatre Company. He has served on the Board of Directors for Lakeland Theatre Company in North Carolina and is the founder and artistic director of both Talked About Theatre Company and the new Louisburg Summer Theatre. As a writer, his work has received several performances at NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama Cabaret. His training includes New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts studying at the New Studio on Broadway for Musical Theatre. As a producer he has worked with Chad Kimball, Anthony Rapp, Richard H. Blake and many more. He is a standing member of The American Guild of Variety Artists. Follow him on twitter: @danieldunlow or check out his website: www.danieldunlow.com

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