Reviewed by Martin Denton
I'm not a comic book person, but I will admit to being a Bullwinkle fan. The sensibility of Jay Ward's cartoon show—Buck Rogers meets Ernie Kovacs?—is recreated on stage by Jeffrey Alexander Lewonczyk and his pixilated collaborators in Piper McKenzie Presents The Tinklepack Patrol in The Curse of Count Morpheus, a witty, skillful, extremely diverting "comic strip in human form" that is currently showing at HERE.
Given what I've already told you, it should not surprise you that the show begins, appropriately self-referentially, with an expert on comic strips denouncing what's to follow. And it ends—ninety minutes on—with the belated appearance of the eponymous Tinklepack Patrol and their current nemesis, the nefarious Count Morpheus. None of which is the least bit important: the real hero and heroine of the piece are Pappy and Mammy, a cantankerous old married couple whose dreams are enacted serial-comic-book-style in the show. Or to put it another way: they are the framing device for the surreal salmagundi of sketches to follow.
You like that word, salmagundi, right? I checked: it means "potpourri"—this is the perfect way to evoke what Tinklepack feels like. Pappy dreams of his younger self, who saved Abraham Lincoln's life and as a result was granted his fondest wish, true love. This leads to a trek back and forth through history, with Venus, Picasso, and the Mona Lisa all turning up. Meanwhile, Mammy's having dreams of her own, involving guns, railroads, and "the fuzz." A comic book shop proprietor who knows Mammy and Pappy (and is a devoted "Tinklepack Patrol" fan) is dreaming—or being dreamt—as well; and in between all of this are the gag-ridden vignettes in which Pappy, momentarily awake, tries various devious plans to trick Mammy into making him a cup of warm milk.
This could be a terrible mess, but Lewonczyk and company know exactly what they're doing. It takes a little longer than it should for us to get into the show's rhythm, but once we do, Tinklepack is home free. Just as The Producers puts the most improbable musical imaginable on stage, so does Tinklepack place all the silly nonsense that we loved about old-fashioned cartoons and comics before our eyes. Gags are repeated, improved on, and thrown away at more-or-less lightning pace. It's all extremely goofy; and it's all extremely fun.
The Lovely Hope Cartelli (that's how she's billed in the program) is a riot as Pappy and a host of other characters. Kate Sandberg, Nina Waluschka, Joe Beaudin, and Lewonczyk himself are her equally impressive co-stars (Beaudin is hilarious speaking gibberish as Mook the Martian).