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With Punch and Judy as parents

March 30, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

"The Long Christmas Ride Home," Paula Vogel's semiautobiographical "puppet play with actors," is a delicate enterprise that could have easily descended into stylistic obscurity. From the starting point of one family's disastrous Christmas in the late 1960s, the play spirals off into an incisive examination of family dysfunction and abuse.

Without an absolute synergy of production elements, "Home" could come across as embarrassingly mushy. The fact that many characters are portrayed by puppets, coupled with the play's lightning transitions in mood and setting, are just two of the challenges facing prospective interpreters.

Fortunately, director Stuart Rogers and his crack team of actors and designers coalesce, seamlessly, in a beautifully realized production at Theatre Tribe. Meticulous to the last detail, Rogers' staging is as precise as it is emotionally gripping.

Jeff McLaughlin's set suggests a wide variety of locales without burdening the actors with cumbersome scene changes. Luke Moyer's virtuosic lighting ranges from the shadowy to vivid explosions of primary colors. Also stunning is Ellen Mattesi's puppet design, from its hilariously X-rated "naked lesbian law students" to its prim, grim puppet-children, helpless extras in their parents' mindlessly vicious Punch and Judy show. Composer Thadeus Frazier-Reed's live percussion and shamisen music gibe perfectly with the show's thematic emphasis on Japanese culture and folk tradition.

Shaun Duke and Mary Manofsky are the narrator/parents, domestic monsters headed for a Christmas catastrophe. Kerrie Blaisdell, Jeff Kerr McGivney and Luka Lyman play the puppet children, all grown up and involved in their own pathological relationships, while Douglas Lowry rounds out the cast.

Reportedly, Vogel has requested that this play never be presented at Christmastime. Certainly, "Home" is no warm and fuzzy Christmas perennial. Yet its surprising final message of hope and human resilience resonates, whatever the season.


`Long Christmas Ride Home'

Where: Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; ends April 28

Tickets: $20; (866) 811-4111,

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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