In a multi-part, mini-play threaded through The Horrific Puppet Affair (playing through Halloween at Woodland Empire Ale Craft), a cat desperately tries to communicate to its master that the house they're living in is haunted. Its frantic meowing at the sight of ghosts and other unexplained phenomena only irritates the cat's owner—until it's too late.
Skits like "Cat Sees Ghost" are what make HPA a vital Boise Halloween tradition. It's charming, focused and short, and there are many like it in this year's production. Now in its fifth year, HPA opened Oct. 22. The concept is straightforward: It's a collection of skits and short plays told through puppetry and produced by HomeGrown Theatre. It's deeply entertaining, packed with wit and insight, and at $5-$10 per ticket, well worth the price of admission.
At the Oct. 23 performance, HPA was a mixed bag of tight, black-hearted comedies and serious meditations. In "The Big Rip," by Chad Ethan Shohet, a tear appears in space through which tentacles pour out, wrapping themselves around Earth and pulling the planet through the hole. It's a seconds-long expression—the puppetry version of an internet meme or .gif.
Other skits were more somber and elaborate. "Her and Me," by Dayna Smith, was about a woman who discovers she can communicate with her reflection in a mirror, but soon learns she's watching her own life events unfold on the other side of the glass. A tale too short for conventional production, it was a touching fit for the improvised Woodland Empire stage.
Inside the HPA program is a warning: "Our production contains swears, scares and puppet gore." It would do well to include trigger warnings, as some of the skits make light of mental illness, systemic sexism and suicide.
"I Wish I Were...," by Jaime Nebeker, brutally explores the body horror of being a woman. Matthew Baltzell's "The ABC's of Dead Millennials" is essentially a comedic presentation of 26 ways to destroy a puppet.
Not everything at HPA is funny, and even some of the humorous skits have a seriousness belied by the puppetry. HGT is a laboratory—a place where playwrights, actors and assorted creatives can throw proverbial pasta against the wall to see if it sticks. The experience is by turns funny, sober, disconcerting and fun.