Roundhouse Punch

For Punch and Judy, the gloves are off (again) at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Cleveland Public Theatre Cleveland theater Through February 23 at the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727.

We all know couples who love each other as passionately as they disagree. If you've ever wanted to see a dissection of such a volatile relationship from a surreal perspective, you'll love The Confessions of Punch and Judy at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Based on the characters from the popular puppet show, this 75-minute exploration of love, hate, and the rituals of both first graced the CPT stage in 2005. Now it's back with the original two-person cast. Ker Wells and Tannis Kowalchuk, as Punch and Judy, have refined their tough-love ballet into an amazingly pure distillation of damn near every argument any two sweethearts can have. They're perfectly matched — an absurdist theatrical version of Nureyev and Fonteyn.

Taking place in a single all-night bash-a-thon, the performers transition seamlessly from angry confrontation to sulking isolation, sampling a heady mélange of theatrical styles encompassing commedia dell'arte, mime, a cappella singing, slapstick, and kitchen-sink melodrama. Some snatches of dialogue seem perfectly sensible, but then one or the other character will drift off into a personal reverie involving the story of Adam and Eve (with hammers standing in, appropriately, for the principals) or the myth of the Minotaur.

More than anything, Confessions is a dance of dysfunction that slyly incorporates the tools of disagreement so familiar to most couples. When irritated, Punch retreats to his hideaway to pound nails into boards, while knife-wielding Judy attacks a head of cabbage as if she's the love child of Julia Child and Anton Chigurh. And they lie to each other while wearing masks, asking each other questions and then hating the answers ("What would you do if I left?" "For how long?" "Don't say that — tell me you don't want me to go!").

Written by the two actors and director Raymond Bobgan, this is a show that every couple should see before they consult a marriage counselor. For the price of admission, it could save them hundreds.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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