I Am an Insect
Paperhand Puppet Intervention
Through Sept. 7 at UNC’s Forest Theater;
Sept. 12-13 at N.C. Museum of Art

Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s I Am an Insect: A Fluttering Processionary of Infinitesimal Ideas, despite its tongue-twisting title, is a guaranteed way to get kids interested in insects. The outdoor production at UNC’s Forest Theater is a marvelous display of imagination, using puppets, props and costumes to remind the audience of the marvels beneath their feet.

There is no real plot, save for several sequences depicting the noted scientist Jean Henri Fabre. The puppet-headed Fabre is one of dozens of characters introduced over the course of the evening, represented by a cast of 16 performing various roles with the help of costumes and props.

The effect is often startling: A grasshopper emerges from nowhere; beetles battle to the death; dung beetles tumble over a large globesort of like a Cirque du So-bug. In the climactic numbers, a spider towers over the performers for a creation myth, butterflies “soar” into the audience and a silhouetted allegory about the relationship between man and nature unfolds before our eyes in a series of paper-cut animations.

Some of the later sequences go on a bit long, and it’s doubtful that kids will get the idea behind such sketches as Fabre’s analysis of ants as a socialist society. But the puppeteers are able to achieve wondrous things with simple color cutouts and a little imagination, and the house band creates a sense of wonder that hangs over the whole production. It’s a great evening of family entertainment, though be sure to bring some bug spray; otherwise, you might get personally acquainted with one insect not in the showthe mosquito. Zack Smith

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy,
Progress Energy Center
Through Aug. 17

Back when Personals was written in the 1980s, the prospect of anonymous hookups was limited to an ad in the paper. Today, the Internet has changed the way people meet, fall in love, and stalk one another. It can go either way. My best friend’s brother met his wife through craigslist; a year later, I read about someone else whose craigslist date stabbed him.

Wisely, the production of Personals at Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy updates some aspects of the show to the ‘net era. The play, from the creators of Friends, consists of sketches about dating and relationships, with some recurring characters and plots, such as one about a personals editor (Michael Jones) whose life changes when he meets a transvestite dwarf.

The actors generally do a good job of selling the show’s more unbelievable bits, such as Noah Putterman’s gangbusters performance of “After School Special,” a rollicking if slightly creepy number about a lusty teenager. The emotional moments are often quite effective as well, with Katie Lynch’s wistful performance of “Imagine My Surprise” and Yolanda Williams Rabun’s heartbreaking “Michael” as highlights.

Personals zooms by at a fast clip and is a definite crowd pleaser, though there is the undeniable feeling that the show’s book could use an update. MySpace: The Musical, anyone? Zack Smith

Hot Mikado
Raleigh Little Theatre
Through Aug. 31

“If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now!” proclaims the Mikado (Warren Keyes), the title character of the nonsensical-but-entertaining, jazzed-up opera Hot Mikado. To give you some context: The original Mikado was an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan that satirized British politics through a Japanese setting, whose creation was told in the award-winning film Topsy-Turvy. Hot Mikado redoes the songs and outfits in the style of the 1920s. So you have an Americanized version of a British play about Japan. Got that?

Hot Mikado sticks close to the already-ridiculous plot of the original Mikado. Set against an impressive faux-Japanese backdrop, it’s a classic forbidden love story involving Nanki-Poo (Jason Justice), who falls for Yum-Yum (Katherine Anderson), who happens to be promised to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (Tony Hefner). Much of the humor revolves around the characters trying to find loopholes around the Mikado’s rules about flirting, marriage and regular executions in a way that lets everyone live happily ever after.

The show is a bizarre mixture of many types of comedy and storytelling, but it’s all done with energy and color. Hefner is terrific as the deadpan Ko-Ko, as is LaDawna Akins as the irate Katishathankfully, both characters are highlighted in the second act. The overall result is slight but quite fun in placesand hopefully, it will encourage theatergoers to sample the actual works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Zack Smith