Free Times - April 22, 2006

Poona Salad: Specializing in nuances of the weird

By Keith A. Joseph

PRINCE AND POONA Brett Holden and Batkovic.
Poona the Fuck Dog
Through May 13
2438 Scranton Rd.

Let's face it: We're all trapped in our own little time-warp. This writer pleads guilty to an adulation of luminous gods and goddesses trading bon mots in art deco townhouses. On the other side of the cultural spectrum, there is Clyde Simon, entrepreneur of convergence-continuum, our town's edifice of theatrical funk. He has yet to cast away his metaphorical bong or John Lennon granny glasses. His devotion to Woodstockian cultural detritus demonstrates a devotion worthy of Lassie.

Simon and his unceasing courtship of bad-boy theatrics has gone so far as to show off his dick, while giving us odes to the Marquis de Sade, incest, pornography and the antics of various psychosexual monsters run amok.

Opening on Good Friday, a show christened Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays For Children seems as natural to him as George M. Cohan waving the flag on the Fourth of July. In a program note, Simon proclaims that he's been waiting for years to get this 1999 masterpiece by Jeff Goode on his stage. Our natural response is "But, of course." For it evokes Midnight Movie irreverence, mated to the naughty-little-girl voyeurism of Terry Southern's Candy, with a good helping of the barnyard raunch of Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat cartoon strip. It all coalesces in the brand of prurient catnip in which this theater revels.

The best thing we can say about this archetypal convergence-continuum evening is that they've learned to pull off an adept form of anarchy. Thus, this chronicle of a nymphomaniac pooch cohabitating with half the animal kingdom, God selling off revelations at $10 a pop and two aliens playing a pornographic variation on Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" seems at least half as clever as it thinks it is.

Unlike Cleveland Public Theatre, its nearest rival in the experimental repertory, Simon has learned to focus on and develop a specific, madcap, whirling-dervish style that suits his material. Thus, with the aid of his able technical designers and costumers, he's able to give us pleasingly goofy, five-and-dime approximations of Lewis Carroll trickery, including trapdoor evacuations to Hell, fuzzy pink sex machines, and an enchanted forest ruled by a half-human TV console, cleverly rendering a phantasmagoria on a limited budget.

Even more importantly, he's developed a repertory company that specializes in various nuances of weird. Like the movie moguls of old, he's created his own star system, his brightest being Jovana Batkovic, who's become his Garbo of perversity. Here, as the eponymous loose-morals ***** Poona, done up in blonde braids, she's a winsome cross between Lolita and Lucy.

In the Edward G. Robinson tradition of little-man bluster, we have Wes Shofner. If Burt Lancaster had ever played a shrub, as Brin Metzendorf does here, he couldn't possibly have been anymore dynamic. As the perpetual Jerry Lewis of the evening, doing rabbits and aliens, there is Geoffrey Hoffman, while Lucy Bredeson-Smith gives the evening its touch of Bette Davis nervous energy.

Admittedly, the proceedings would have benefited from a good half-hour pruning. And the attempted musical interludes are disastrous. Yet it must be acknowledged that Simon is preaching to the converted — those seeking eternal Midnight Movie thrills. It would be gratifying to see this theater break out of its psychedelic cocoon and stretch its wings with something more nourishing than LSD brownies.