Sonoma County Press Democrat - June 8, 2001

Raw comedy unleashed in 'Poona'

June 8, 2001


In a world where parents still lull their children to sleep with nightmarish ditties about babies tumbling from treetops and tales of a lost girl who roams through a vacant home vandalizing and stealing, the adventures of "Poona the F---dog" don't seem so ridiculous.

Poona, despite her unsavory sounding breed, is just a down-on-her-luck young pup looking for love in all the wrong places. Played with youthful exuberance by Ariana Kaiser, Poona is believable as both innocent and unchaste.

Theater Review: Poona the F---dog

** (Two stars)

Where: Actors' Theatre, Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, north of Santa Rosa

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 30

Admission: $12, $10 senior and youth; 523-4185

Bottom line: A wild, often funny and explicitly dysfunctional fairy tale that relies too heavily on adolescent humor to frame a barrage of weighty moral statements

Her life changes dramatically when her fairy God Phallus with a predictably crude wand gives her a magic pink box to play in. The pink box contains a "game" that makes Poona very popular.

And if you are past the age of puberty, the box is probably exactly what you think it is.

OK, the imagery makes this production directed by Dwayne Stincelli a little uncomfortable to watch. The play revels in being confrontational. It offends and amuses, irritates and pontificates. And if you believe a play with a magic phallus character can have morals, it presents a litany of them.

Censored title and explicit events aside, the play succeeds at crafting a fanciful lampoon of modern day evils, but it picks some easy targets.

Hypocrisy is bad. So are mass media, the Republican party, cigarettes, O.J. Simpson, athlete endorsements, tequila and marketing.

There's a shotgun spray of adolescent humor, including the oft-repeated, unbleeped title, that doesn't always frame the moral stances best. And rather than being biting, some of the jokes seem condescending and mean-spirited.

One character comes out to tell a revamped see-Spot-run story that ends something like this, "See the stupid, stupid children watch and watch and watch and never lift a finger. Good stupid children."

The audience frequently struggles with whether to laugh or cringe.

It's comic when a pack of cigarettes wields a gun and chases a screaming young kid around the stage to illustrate that smoking kills.

It's a tad too creepy when an orange-flip-flop-wearing, guitar-playing God gives Poona the right to kill because she's won a Heisman trophy and a collection of Super Bowl rings. Depending on their stature, athletes can break the commandments.

"Michael Jordan could commit genocide," God says.

Played by Peter Downey, the hippy-dippy God character is uninspired, but his portrayal of "the man who can sell anything and does" is well-played, and as slick as an ace used car salesman.

He represents the evil of consumerism and only sells the impractical.

"If you sell someone something they don't need, then right away they don't need another," the savvy salesman explains.

There are about 40 characters in "Poona" that are personified by eight actors. And despite the volume, there is little chance for confusion. Costumes are minimal and cheap but cloak characters well.

The actors themselves, however, do little to embody their various personas other than switching clothing.

But noteworthy comic performances abound, and the script is rich with humor both dark and light.

Sallie Romer, a standout in the cast, portrays the wonderfully manic schizophrenia of a television at the beck and call of a remote control with zeal and then embodies the icy, cool stealth of Suzy Suzy Cyber Assassin.

Suzy Suzy often takes aim at the audience. Choosing a theater critic as her target one night, she orders death by stabbing, with the glassy-eyed stare of a soulless harpy.

Eric O'Brien plays a diabolical Handsome Prince who sucker punches Poona when he tires of playing in her box and later a disheartened narrator who whines that he has "the most thankless role in the play."

Most of the humor in "Poona" has a wicked, brutal edge that causes more nervous laughter than belly laughs.

Tim Earls delivers more of the latter as the giant fairy penis and a shrub who aspires to greatness unlike other vegetation.

Though amusing, the minutes-long bit could easily have been excised from a play that runs too long and rehashes too much.

The show would leave an open-minded audience amused and satiated by a one-act play, but instead leaves it weary after the third act.

An alien duo (played by Scott Wagman and Laura Littman), one named something that can't be repeated here, is the subject of two or three gags too many to maintain its humor value.

And the songs, which seem longer and more plentiful than they really are, are an enticing addition to the warped children's variety show format. But most of them, including the overblown "Tequila" song, seem like an afterthought that someone should have talked the author out of.

In the end, the moral of the play is really an anti-moral. After making fun of society's evils, the play ends by making fun of itself and the audience. Time is turned back and those assembled are told to do something useful with their evening this time.

But if you've got nothing better to do than waste your time watching prime-time television, you might as well watch "Poona."

You can reach Staff Writer Debra D. Bass at 521-5216 or e-mail