Goldfish Publishers - August 14, 2004

Would You Be My (Fuck)Buddy?
Mark S.P. Turvin
Reviewed 8/14/04

Poona the Fuckdog...and Other Plays for Children
Directed by Anthony Runfola
Stray Cat Theater
El Museo
, Phoenix

(480) 820-8022
August 13th - September 4th, 2004
$10.00 - $20.00

Jeff Goode’s controversially named Poona the Fuckdog…and Other Plays for Children is hip and smarmy all at once; imagine a series of knowing winks and explicit double entendres during a Childsplay performance. Earnest in its attempt to highlight the difficulties we create in our lives in the name of fairness, this is a script that is unafraid to say the things we all harbor in the dark politically incorrect corners of our hearts. Some will be put off by the language, but it’s all right because they wouldn’t be able to handle the type of enlightenment that Goode intends for his audiences anyway. Filled with images of big pink boxes and enormous cigarette cartons shooting small children, subtlety is in short supply, In the able hands of Stray Cat Theatre and director Anthony Runfola, this is a case where malcontents get to lob funny barbs at every section of society and we enjoy hearing what no one dares to utter aloud but secretly feels. This is a play that should be seen by the rigid thinkers on both sides of every issue, but will instead preach to the converted. That doesn’t stop the fact that there is a lot of fun to be had in the mythical, very realistic Kingdom of Do.

Poona (Jenn Taber) and her friends are the kinds of characters you don’t usually find in Disney tales. Storyteller Steven J. Scally tells how Poona is an unpopular puppy until the Fairy God Phallus (Scott C. Jeffers) helps her to discover that letting people play in her big pink box stops her from being alone, if it doesn’t exactly bring her friends. The Kingdom of Do is ruled by a television (Chelsea Monty) whose idea of dealing with the dragon that is killing people around the land is to lull her subjects with reruns of Friends and highlighting local Super Bowl victories. The Prince (Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker) is a womanizer with no conscience and a penchant for murder. A man who can sell anything (Trey Clevenger) offers some pretty questionable items that fly off the shelves. Two aliens, Jasper (Alicia Marie Turvin) and Cunt (Marcos D. Voss) wander the show wanting to be taken to the lead actor. A shrub (Eric Zaklukiewicz) complains of his placement onstage. God (Monty again) even makes an appearance in wife-beater and dinosaur pajama bottoms taking five bucks for any questions and offering $500 for being stumped. The acting style may be children’s theatre, but the language is pure “X” rating, and the situations are thinly veiled and often quite hilarious.

Runfola is well-schooled in these two different fields. His work at Childsplay is just as useful as his experimental directing credits. The ensemble is earnestly presentational. The pacing is spry. One problem that occurs with plays of this type is that the humor and tone can become old after each section, but Runfola comes up with enough variations to keep the audience from being lulled into a stupor of sarcasm.

The only problem, and it’s a minor misstep, is the inconsistency of presentational styles. Where Taber, Scally, Zaklukiewicz, and Jeffers tend to be strong and as realistic as a slutty puppy, a storyteller, plant life, and a penis can be in a fairy tale, Monty tends to be rather deadpan in comparison, especially as God (though her performance as Suzy-Suzy Cyber Assassin is much more animated, so it’s obvious that the other two are choices), Clevenger is consistently monotone (and a bit hard to hear), and Vaughan-Brubaker, Turvin, and especially Voss are much more over the top. The differences in choices are enjoyable, but do not make for a truly cohesive ensemble. What may help keep the proceedings jumping slightly undercuts the bond between the performers. Other than this quibble, there isn’t much of a gulf between the somewhat stronger performances of Taber, Jeffers, and Zaklukiewicz and the slightly weaker performances of Vaughan-Brubaker, Clevenger and Voss. Inconsistency in styles does not translate into negative individual offerings.

The setting is quite functional and works well for the production, especially Robbie Vaughn’s clever backdrops. Erik Michael’s lighting design is commendably effective and filled with good choices in this challenging space. Justin DeRo’s costumes are nicely picked. Vaughn-Brubaker and Benjamin Monrad’s sound design is impeccable. Jeffer’s original music is quite clever.

This is my kind of show. I prefer the shocking to the subdued. It doesn’t shrink from the offensive, and it is the kind of theatre at which Stray Cat Theatre excels. This found space has potential, even if it screams of the need for air conditioning. Those with weak hearts or minds might want to avoid Poona, but everyone else should give her a try.