KDHX Online (FM 88.1) - April 2005
I promise I will never, ever write a criticism like this again.
Well, maybe that's not such a viable promise, since I am also covering a play about the porn industry this weekend. But at least you'll know my heart was in the right place.
Poona is an entertaining fairy tale about growing up in modern America. As near as I can tell, it shows how freedom has evolved into a sort of plague, making fools of us all, before finishing us off. I suppose that links it up, somehow, with the Theatre of the Absurd. Or, quite possibly, the Republican National Dictatorship. But it's a lot funnier than either of those things.
Melissa Navarro is charming and naïve as the titular pup in act one, and a sadder but wiser little Fuckdog in act two. My companion in the audience commended her for her winning, child-like qualities before an unfortunate Super Bowl injury. Being some ten years older than he, I liked Ms. Navarro best after her injury, when she became old and decrepit. Something for everyone, that's the key to success.
My companion also counted (at my request) that the word Fuck occurs about nineteen times in act one. However, his figures also indicate that Fuck is given a surprising run for its money by Cunt. Cunt garners an impressive eighteen mentions before intermission. Will Fuck retain its title as America's most beloved expletive? Watch and see.
Needless to say, it's a perfect show for Soulard.
Plot-wise, things get out of hand after Poona discovers the (cartoonish) joys of sex and the unreliability of a "perfect" mate: the princely-as-he-wants-to-be Rusty Jones. Mr. Jones is also a lot of fun in several other roles. It's slightly horrifying, though, watching him choke to death while he's force-fed McDonald's french fries. Megan Kelly, in her McDonald's uniform, draws a chilled laugh from the audience as she triumphantly walks away from his corpse, humming I'm Loving It!TM
Poona is helped through her trials by a singing-and-dancing Fairy God Phallus, the delightful Ken Haller. Tyson Blanquart is in absolute top form as The Man Who Could Sell Anything, and as a sort of Joe Sixpack. In the latter role, Mr. Blanquart allows for the invasion of an all-powerful, debilitating Mass Media: the relentlessly, fearsomely perky/sexy-or, "perxy," as we may call her someday -Ms. Kelly. Things get even more astonishingly out of hand.
Emily Strembicki scores a perfect trifecta, being cast not only as God (with a splendid Vaudevillian flair), but also as the Devil and a space-alien who happens to be named "Cunt" (which explains the show's doubly-high Naughtiness Quotient).
Boy, I sure hope my pastor doesn't read this.
But my point is that Ms. Strembicki is very funny, as many of us already knew. So is John Shepherd, as another alien. Both of them wander in and out of scenes in the fashion of the Yellow Kid and, well, his Cunt, looking for a way back to their own planet. Brian Hyde is great as a computer, corrupting Ms. Kelly's exuberant young "Susie."
I'm torn now, between telling you what I think it all means, and just repeating offensive words as often as possible. Essentially, in Jeff Goode's script, the nation's going to Hell in a hand basket because nobody wants to be responsible, and everyone wants to "have it off," as they say in the British sitcoms. Like most fairy tales, it's a remarkably conservative premise, when you think about it. But what the fuck do I know?
The cast also includes the terrifically wacky Richard Strelinger (as a back-stabbing acting shrub, and as an ambitious reporter) and Jill Becvar as our prim story-teller. Both of them provide some fine Monty Python-type moments along the way. Expect a ton of inventive little sight-gags, and a great deal of mugging and aside-making under the very fine comic direction of Pamela Banning. It's either her direction, or she just totally lucked-out with ten very funny actors. When a show works, it's usually impossible to tell how much credit goes to the director.
The story is very clever and funny though perhaps a little conventional on paper, notwithstanding that giant singing phallus (Dr. Haller also doubles as a very funny French frog). Traci Eichhorst designed the panoply of fun costumes, which must pose constant challenges in the fast-change department. There's an equally surprising array of props by Brian Hyde, who also designed the set. In the relatively intimate Soulard Theatre, you can even see how beautifully he's made Ms. Becvar's fairy tale storybook. Running a little over two hours, Poona is a huge grab-bag of comedy and social commentary, likely to be a big hit with the over-18/under-30 crowd.
I'm not sure what it says about the play, that it relies so heavily on shocking "sentence enhancers," as Spongebob Squarepants likes to call them, on top of everything else this show has going for it. But you really don't notice the four-letter words after a while. I suppose it does add to the reckless, youthful mood.
Oh yes, and Fuck goes the distance in the end against Cunt, 36 to 25.
Poona The Fuckdog And Other Plays For Children continues through April 30, 2005 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth, south of Downtown. Reservations are advised. For more information call (314) 368-7306 or go on-line, to www.hydewaretheatre.org.