Iowa Theatre Blog
February 18, 2010

Backstage with Poona

Dreamwell - Dreamwell Theatre is known for doing risky shows, but never before have they produced a show with a title they can't even say in polite company. Poona the Fuckdog opens tonight. It's the first play in Dreamwell's "A Taboo Bijou" season. We asked Chuck Dufano, president of the board, to elucidate this season's theme. "A Taboo Bijou refers to plays that involve a taboo subject. Themes that are difficult to witness onstage and are subjects people don't like to talk about. We thought about presenting a season that would elicit the question, "Why would anyone want to write a play about that?!" explained Dufano. "These kinds of plays challenge the way we accept theatre as a means of expression and bring to light certain aspects of life." As they searched for plays for the season, Dufano said they found many plays with taboo subjects were too serious. Poona the Fuckdog, written by No Shame Theatre founder Jeff Goode, is the opposite. "Poona is a blatant comedy. It's fun while still incorporating taboo themes of language and sexuality," said Dufano before adding with a wry smile, "And we thought having a show with the word "dog" in it would sell lots of tickets. I think that was the word."

As we often do with shows, we also had a chance to sit down with some of the creators of the show. Brian Tanner and Meg Dobbs co-directed the show. Kevin Moore is one the actors.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. So... what is this show about?

Brian: On the surface, it's a series of stories about Poona, who is trying to mature and find her way in the world and she runs into a variety of characters and influences along the way, some good and some bad. It's a sort of fractured fairy tales for adults. She is accompanied by a storyteller and her own special guardian. There are several fairy tale components like a handsome prince, talking stuffed rabbits, as well as a number of characters you wouldn’t expect, like a fast talking salesman and a TV that is elected king.

Kevin: Right and the show's about context. Questioning opinions and ideas we take on faith - this word, that action, that lifestyle: it's "wrong." This script brings some of these concepts we've all been indoctrinated in since childhood, turns them around a little bit and makes us laugh at them, and by doing this, makes a little part of our brain ask "Why?" The show's also about laughing your butt off - really. It might just slide right off of your spine - seriously, wear a belt to keep your pants on.

Brian and Meg, why did you want to direct this show?

Meg: Well, who wouldn't? I wanted to test myself against the challenge of such a wacky comedy and the chance to work on a play that is truly the definition of ensemble.

Brian: This is such a quick witted script and it really challenges the structure and boundaries of your traditional play. Characters step in and out of the narrative, and not only address the audience, but interact with them too. I thought it did a great job making social commentaries through the use of satire and hitting above and below the belt at the same time. It hits you on a cerebral level even as you’re groaning at the political un-correctness.

Kevin, what characters do you play and what was challenging about portraying them?

Kevin: I play the Prince and also the Computer. The Prince is challenging because, well, there are so many Prince Charming roles out there, it can be tricky to introduce something new into a role of that kind. The script helps in that way - he's definitely not Prince Charming! But it's been a lot of fun to try to pry out some originality and fun from a more or less stock character type. The Computer is challenging because it's a character based in a very startling scene and powerful symbolism. It's an emotionless machine that ...just might...have a bit of an agenda of its own. Or, it might simply be removed from any emotional or conscience-based value system. It's a tricky part to make alive and funny and shocking at the same time.

What has been challenging about putting this all together?

Meg: The play is made up of a lot of small separate pieces, with one overarching storyline. The challenge has been to create a sense of cohesiveness.

Brian: And there are quite a few characters and quick set changes. Most of the cast play multiple roles. We went for a minimalistic approach, with costumes that suggest the characters and a basic colorful, but neutral set. We thought that since this is supposed to be adult fairy-tales or stories, what if this kind of looks like a production put on by kids, for adults? So there’s kind of a simplistic feel to the set, although the subject matter is very rich and provocative.

Kevin: I think the toughest challenge of any Dreamwell show is that we choose shows that don't fit into a lot of people's ideas about theatre. The shows are great, and startling and courageous, but rarely easy for the audience - exploration rarely is. Poona's certainly in that vein - the show has elements with the potential to offend almost anybody. But, in the spirit of satire, one has to enter it with a lack of judgment - be prepared for the unexpected, and that the unexpected might just insist on sitting in your lap for a while!

Who among your cast is going to blow us away?

Brian: Pretty much everyone in the cast has their own moments and times to shine. It’s such an ensemble piece that I hesitate to call out any one performance over another.

Meg: Yes, everyone, really. It's an ensemble after all.

You two sound like I've asked you which of your children you love best!

Kevin: I'll say it. Libby Dobbs is an inspired choice for Poona, and has masterfully prepared herself for a complicated role. Steve Polchert brings something unique and brilliant to each of his many roles. But like Meg and Brian said, everyone is working hard and bringing freshness to their characters. It's been a fabulous cast to be around.

What are your favorite moments in the play

Meg: Playing with the pink box. I find the scene with Suzy-Suzy and the computer to be the most gripping moment of the play.

Kevin: I love the Suzy-Suzy scene, not because I'm in it, but because it's the only truly chilling scene in the show. There's a lot of adult material in the show, a lot of stuff that may startle you in its underlying seriousness, or shame you or make you think. Suzy-Suzy's a counter-point to the zaniness and silliness in most of the other scenes. Which is not to say it isn't funny too.

Brian: There are some scenes that stand out for me. One is with the aliens, one of which has a name that unfortunately is something very offensive in our culture. So there’s a great exchange of confusion not unlike “Who’s on first?” which is hilarious while at the same time exploring the nature of offensive language. Just when you think that scene couldn’t go any further, there it goes, going further.

The press release says it “skewers society’s views on everything from sex to terrorism to language to sex again” but what does that mean?

Brian: There really isn’t any subject that isn’t fair game in this show. It takes certain archetypes, twists them around, and reflects them back at us. A lot of the humor is very satirical but at the same time there are rings of truth in the words, or at least we recognize the points it’s trying to make. As we move from story to story, or even from line to line, it’s taking punches at a lot of society’s conventions. It’s also got a lot of smart but silly humor in it too.

Kevin: It also means leave your preconceptions at the door. Let yourself be carried away with the show and try not to let the daytime world of rules affect your enjoyment. Don't get me wrong - if you find yourself stewing for days over the social concepts that we mess with in the show, that's great! But let it stew after the show's over. If you find yourself in the audience and thinking "But you CAN'T say/do/think/sneak into a box with THAT!!!!" Ask yourself: "Why the fuck not?" It's only a play.

Poona the Fuckdog runs February 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 at 7:30 PM at the Unitarian Society building (10 S. Gilbert). Tickets can be reserved online but are also available at the door.