Clockwise, from top left: The Feast: An Intimate Tempest, Little Triggers, The Houdini Box, and He Who

The latest Muppets movie launched a revolution: Marionettes are multiplying on local stages (we count four plays with puppets this month alone). But it’s not all frogs and rainbows. While some of the action is safe for kids, much is for mature audiences only—or just plain freaky. Here’s what to expect.

The Feast: An Intimate Tempest
at Redmoon Theater and Chicago Shakespeare Theater at CST
PLOT: Prospero chains Ariel and Caliban to a dinner table, starving them until they’ve told the story of Shakespeare’s Tempest.
PUPPETS: Wooden heads blink their eyes and flap their jaws. A table sprouts Harpy wings.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE: OK for teens, but “the Harpy would possibly blow the hair off some kid’s head,” says the designer and codirector Frank Maugeri.

Little Triggers
at Ruckus Theater at The Side Project
PLOT: A malevolent workplace menaces a young man.
PUPPETS: A typewriter types by itself. A photocopier spews out complete copies of a book. Shadow puppets narrate children’s stories written by the protagonist.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE: This isn’t take-your-child-to-work day. “It’s gonna be scary,” says the director, Allison Shoemaker.

The Houdini Box
at Chicago Children’s Theatre at Mercury Theatre and North Shore Center
PLOT: A boy learns Houdini’s tricks in this adaptation of a book by Brian Selznick, whose work also inspired the film Hugo.
PUPPETS: Each human actor has a puppet counterpart, with scenery rolling past on painted scrolls. “The actors live in a puppet world,” says the director-puppeteer Blair Thomas.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE: Abracadabra! Old-fashioned fun for the whole family.

He Who
at Theatre Zarko at Steppenwolf Garage
PLOT: Four exhausted women take care of one monstrously large infant.
PUPPETS: Actors use various gizmos from the director-playwright Michael Montenegro’s bag of tricks—marionettes, mechanical objects, masks, shadows, the power of suggestion—to conjure up the enormous baby.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE: Adults only. Zarko shows are spooky and philosophical, and this is no exception.


Photography: (He Who) Laura Montenegro; (The Feast) Michael Brosilow; (Houdini Box) Margaret Strickland; (Little Triggers) courtesy of Frank Sjodin