Credit: Rick Aguilar

One reigning camp queen remembers and pays homage to another in Hell in a Handbag’s production of The Artificial Jungle, the final play written by Charles Ludlam, the patron saint of queer comedy, before his early death in 1987.

A la Double Indemnity, a hunky drifter (David Lipschutz) colludes with a stir-crazy pet-shop clerk (Sydney Genco, in fabulous female drag) to commit insurance fraud, murder her simpleton husband (Ed Jones), and escape the control of the family business’s high-haired matriarch (David Cerda, naturally). By today’s LGBTQ humor standards, it’s wild to imagine that this sketch-like show has such subversive roots; other than some prominently showcased bosom and a few mildly raunchy PG-rated visual gags, director Shade Murray’s production is a borderline family-friendly affair full of throwback gentle comedy.

Mostly it’s a fun excuse for puppet designers Mark Blashford and Lanky Yankee Puppet Co. to go buck wild with lo-fi effects, filling the shop’s tanks and terrariums with expressive—sometimes hostile—critters puppeteered by Corey Strode. An cast of familiar Hell in a Handbag faces delivers the usual—but still satisfying—physical comedy, door slams, and rake-effect bits.

I suspect that, as with improv, there’s an inverse relationship between how funny gay camp reads and the size of the venue it occupies. Compared to the company’s bar digs at Mary’s Attic, Stage 773, though it regularly hosts comedy, feels a little formal. But by and large, the jokes land, and The Artificial Jungle serves as an amusing if not all-out-hilarious testament to Ludlam’s enduring influence.   v