Cleve Scene - April 19, 2006
The power of fairy tales -- happy, Grimm, or otherwise -- never seems to leave us, no matter how old and jaded we become. As children, we found in those enduring stories our first inkling of how to deal with authority, mysterious and unspeakable evil, and the opposite sex. (Not to mention dwarves, talking animals, and the basics of cottage construction.)
So it's difficult to know how our lives might have progressed differently had we benefited from the wisdom of an invisible Fairy God Phallus. Or whether our view of the world might have changed had we met two aliens named Jasper and Cunt, or a man who would sell us anything as long as we didn't need it. These are just a few of the characters that pop up in the collection of adult fairy tales called Poona the Fuckdog, and Other Plays for Children. Written by Jeff Goode, this mélange of silly and sometimes salacious playlets is uneven and often self-indulgent, but it's presented with such delight by the Convergence-Continuum players that you can forgive its excesses.
The central character in all these tales is Poona, a remarkably gifted fuckdog, who quickly discovers the joys of playing games with males inside her Big Pink Box. To make sure that symbolism isn't lost on anyone, Poona and her paramours -- including the inevitable handsome Prince -- jump into a big pink box onstage whenever the mood hits them. But Poona has more than tricks up her canine sleeves: She wins the Heisman Trophy and a couple of Super Bowls (it's a fairy tale, remember?), and is therefore granted dispensation by God to kill people with impunity.
But omnipotent athletes are only one of many targets of Goode's dizzying, nonstop social commentary. As the "Once upon a times" accumulate, the playwright plinks away at advertising, politics, computer games, religion, and egocentric actors. A beer-swilling recliner-potato is made the leader of the Kingdom of Do (where no one really does), then is killed seconds later by an angry mob. Since no person is up to the job, control of the land is turned over to a TV that runs clips of The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy. But a nuclear explosion sends everyone to the hereafter ("Where there are lots of cookies!"), and a conversation with God ensues.
This very rough plot is studded with side excursions, such as consideration of a recent MFA graduate who has been cast as an upstage bush and goes postal when his arboreal acting desires aren't fulfilled. There's even an offstage dragon that wreaks havoc by destroying an orphanage -- although, as one character notes optimistically, "At least there won't be letters from angry parents."
Playwright Goode clearly has a lot of opinions about the abuses of our capitalist society, and some of it comes out in hilarious snippets. When The Man Who Could Sell Anything describes why he won't sell things people need (because "they won't buy again until they need another one"), our acquisitive culture is skewered with precision. This pay-to-play theme even extends to God, who will answer any question for five bucks, and, if you stump Him, will award you $500.
As the only actor who doesn't handle multiple roles, Jovana Batkovic is a slim and sexy Poona, gaining panache as she doggy-trots her way to fame and fortune. Wes Shofner plays a wonderfully laid-back God and shows how the über-salesman's sleazy principles are offended by the demise of asbestos, especially since that material's subliminal marketing potential was off the charts ("It had 'ass' right there in its name!"). Also giving deft performances are Denise Astorino as the storyteller and Lucy Bredeson-Smith as the ruling TV, which croons hypnotically from its cabinet, "See the stupid children watch and never lift a finger."
Geoffrey Hoffman lights up the small stage whether he's Poona's bunny friend or the angel Gabriel, swooping in on gossamer wings. Less effective are Bret T. Holden, who never quite gets a grip on the pompous Prince, and Tom Kondilas, who could do much more with his frog and reporter roles. They are all accompanied by Mark K on keyboard and guitar, who also contributes an eerily effective computer voice. He and Eric Wahl also composed some original music, with which the cast still seems largely unfamiliar.
As always, director Clyde Simon brings his restlessly fertile imagination to the proceedings, and he's backed up with some hilarious costuming by Christine L. Jones (the magical penis person is a stitch, from its helmet hat to the bulging balls at its feet). Poona is an irreverent romp that bulldozes subtlety into a ditch and goes careening on its merry way. You'll wonder whether the local shelter has any fuckdogs up for adoption.