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Swamp Juice

For an hour, a nutty professor dazzles the audience with awesome shadow puppetry in this entertainment that children and adults will equally enjoy.

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Jeff Achtem and friends in a scene from “Swamp Juice” (Photo credit: Andrew Wuttke)


Darryl Reilly, Critic

“The puppets aren’t real. The nightmares are real,” are among the few intelligible words amidst the playful gibberish spoken by performer Jeff Achtem, in the captivating low-tech entertainment, Swamp Juice.

The stage is cluttered with weird looking odds and ends, including a clothesline strung with puppets and kooky objects, dominated by a large screen resembling a bed sheet. Mr. Achtem energetically enters, with wild hair, wearing cast off clothes including a vest buttoned with safety pins, and spouting nonsensical sounds that occasionally resemble words. The mad scientist imagery is completed later when he puts on goggles.

Carrying on like a nutty professor, for the next hour, he dazzles the audience with breathtaking displays of shadow puppetry. Creatures such as a bird, a sea monster, a jellyfish and an ogre, who some of whom travel in a flying machine, and a canoe, are stunningly created on the large screen. All these are from his clever technique of manipulating his hands in front of an old-fashioned projection device.

In addition to his commanding puppetry, his engaging presence carries the show as well. Limber, athletic, and vocally adept, he is a whirlwind of energy that elicits laughter and amazed silences. His bravura recalls the franticness of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown from Back to The Future, and Michael Richards’s Kramer from Seinfeld.

Besides being awed and moved to laughter by these sights and sounds, the audience participates. After he tosses out props including small tree branches and squishy objects, everyone has to hold them up on cue, to be projected onto the screen. He later tosses out 3-D glasses everyone wears to experience the spectacular finale, where his creations appear like-life and are even more thrilling.

An original score composed by David Henry, Nick Carver, and Tristan Kelley accompanies these precisely created sequences. The striking music ranges from comic, dramatic and ominous. With its exaggerated sounds and tones, it reminiscently recalls the soundtracks of Saturday morning cartoons.

Born in Canada, Mr. Achtem is now based in Australia where he has his performing company, Bunk Puppets. In the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his show Sticks Stones Broken Bones won several awards. After this show, he is in the lobby to chat and sells shadow puppet kits. During this engagement, there are four post show shadow puppet workshops, where youngsters will be taught how to create characters made from everyday refuse.

Though designed for children, adults will also be enchanted by Swamp Juice‘s old-fashioned, simple virtuosity.

Swamp Juice (through January 4th, 2015)

Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, east of Seventh Ave. So., in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit

Running time: one hour with no intermission

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