River Front Times - April 27, 2005

Tangy Poona
Hydeware offers a rollicking night of indecent satire that's no dog

Dog-gone great: Brian Hyde (left), Melissa Navarro (center) and Rusty Jones (right)  


Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays
Arts Date: Through April 30
Arts Performed By: Hydeware Theatre
Tickets are $12-$15. Call 314-368-7306.
Directed By: Pamela Banning
Where: Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street
Written By: Jeff Goode
Gather around, boys and girls, it's storybook time. Once upon a time in the far-off kingdom of Do...

Hold on. Is it Do, as in "by all means"? Or is it "Doo," as in "watch where you're stepping"? One of the many pleasures of Jeff Goode's evening of structured anarchy, Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children, is that it never tells the viewer what to think.

Do you want morality tales? They're here. Do you prefer withering satire? You'll find it lurking behind the next shrub. (That's "shrub," as in the popular pejorative for our current president, hilariously brought to life here by Richard Strelinger.) How about a little science fiction? When aliens from outer space stumble into the play, they of course want to be taken to our leader. The problem is that the aliens have a terrible time finding a leader to be taken to. (Oops. Maybe that plot line belongs to the satire.)

To get back to our main story, Poona (Melissa Navarro, winsome yet coy) is a lonely young puppy until her Fairy God-Phallus (yes, it's a walking, talking penis) teaches her the pleasures of playing in her beautiful pink box. Then she has lots of friends! As Poona embarks on the Journey of Life, the slut-pup learns more about daily pleasures and perils than do any half-dozen more conventional fairy-tale characters combined. Poona's quest for ecstasy leads to a kind of theatrical ecstasy that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

But as charming as our heroine is, pay special heed to the second half of the title, "And Other Plays for Children." In an evening of shish kebab theater that skewers everything in sight, at times the Poona plot takes a back seat to a series of potshot sketches aimed at this mass-media-manipulated, Super Size Me, consumer-driven, celebrity-worshiping, technology-encroaching, cybercrime-ridden world we all inhabit.

"Just because you live in a fairy tale doesn't guarantee you a fairy-tale existence," Fairy God-Phallus admonishes Poona. But anyone who attends this Hydeware Theatre production is guaranteed a unique evening of bizarre nonsense. It is Monty Python gone berserk, it's George Carlin's seven dirty words doing combat with Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine. It's old vaudeville comedy pushed into service to tell tales as fresh as yesterday's headlines. Everything gets tossed into an Eraserhead-shape blender and emerges as something totally original.

The targets are so scattershot, and the play's gun barrels are swinging so wildly, there's a real risk that a production might whirl out of control. But as directed by Pamela Banning, this Hydeware Theatre offering only rarely loses its bearings. And yet, without in any way diminishing Banning's contribution, there's also a sense here that all ten actors contributed to the show's manic energy, a sense that the rehearsals might have been as much fun as the public performance. Poona has a team-effort, "we are owners" pride about it. And not just the actors. Brian Hyde's set design and props add to the fun. (Who wouldn't want to take a tumble in that big pink box?) And the playbill artwork is so clever, you're sure to be smiling before the lights even dim. True, there are the occasional moments when you might find yourself asking, "What was that?!" But they pass quickly, for this is an effervescent two hours. Poona's beverage of choice might be tequila, but her namesake play is like a freshly uncorked bottle of Champagne that never goes flat.