By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
|The puppet-making couple at work. (Courtesy Bridget Rountree & Iain Gunn)|
What is Gonzo?
Skip the dictionary definition and go straight to the source: Hunter S. Thompson, the one-of-a-kind writer whose over-the-top brand of journalism blazed through the late 1960s and early ‘70s…and beyond. His writings were factional bizarreries, one man’s booze-and-drug-fueled recountings of his trips through the real world and its wildly beyond-real possibilities.
Now an unauthorized musical version of his story is onstage at the Playhouse, and it’s a pretty wild experience.
To get a clue of what went on before this month’s world premiere of The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, I spoke with Bridget Rountree & Iain Gunn, aka Animal Cracker Conspiracy Puppet Co., who were originally invited to take part in a workshop version of the show three months ago.
The idea, they were told, was Hunter’s Consciousness, and they were encouraged to do what they love: collecting and disassembling bits of flotsam and jetsam to make kinetic new things. For the workshop, they had two weeks to build five rough puppets, including the ones you see in the photos below and a super-sized shocker that’s way more exciting onstage in motion than you can tell from an Instagram shot.
|BATS—but no belfry (Courtesy La Jolla Playhouse)|
Ultimately, they created nine different puppets for the final show, and each of the puppets ended up going through multiple iterations.
“We were part of the whole production,” Iain said. “Usually we work with our puppets ourselves, but this time there were actors who had to learn how to work with the puppets, and we had to keep reworking things so they’d work best for the actors.”
“We really love the performers and we love working with the crew at La Jolla Playhouse,” said Bridget. “It was a thrill to have a seat in the room with so many talented people. And it’s so gratifying to build a puppet without knowing quite how it’s going to be used and then see an actor really bring it to life.”
|Wings, but no angels...though there are Hell’s Angels elsewhere in the show (Courtesy La Jolla Playhouse)|
“Between the two of us, we must have seen 25 rehearsals and 18 performances,” Iain said.
“It’s a fabulous production,” Bridget added. “Everyone should come see it!”
The theme is not just one life-story—it’s a deep dive into competing versions of the American Dream. Though mostly set in the Nixon era, it is still, as I heard someone seated behind me murmur: “so relevant.”
And there’s plenty of music—no songs you’ll walk out singing, but lyrics that give you something to think about and great, throbbing beats that make you want to get up and move.
Will Hunter be Broadway-bound? You bet! I only hope they’ll give the puppets a bit more time onstage!
Walking out of the theater, I caught up with a couple to ask if I could photograph the T-shirt he was wearing—a memento of Hunter’s attempt to run for office. See the image here…and better yet, go see the show.
The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical runs through Oct. 8.
Info and tickets: La Jolla Playhouse