Back Stage - May 9, 2006

Review: 'Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children'
May 09, 2006
By Fran Heller
Using children's stories to deliver a moral message for adults is nothing new; Into the Woods and Wicked are two examples. But playwright Jeff Goode subverts the technique in Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children, an absurdist satire both vitriolic and crude, about a nation literally going to the dogs.

Goode, who calls his dark comedies "shock comedies," does precisely that in Poona, beginning with its provocative title. The question is whether this untidy, overwritten but extremely funny and acerbic piece goes beyond shock value. The answer is yes and no. Lacking a cohesive story line, the play dissolves into a messy polemic that ranges from politics, the news media, and advertising to capitalism, sports, religion, and the Internet. The result, ironically, is information overload, which in a culture controlled by mass media is precisely what the play rails against. In Goode's fairy-tale kingdom, a human television is even elected ruler.

But now to the story, as it were: Poona the pup is lonely. No one will play with her because she's from a working-class family and her parents are divorced. Until, that is, she discovers the joys of sex and seizes the attention of the handsome, selfish Prince, who loves her and leaves her. From her adolescent sexual awakening through Super Bowl stardom and advanced old age, the trajectory of Poona's life serves as a platform for Goode's caustic social commentary, with particular rages against inept political leaders and the technology that has taken over our lives.

Lanky, bespectacled Jovana Batkovic is a darling Poona; she morphs from innocent pup to dog in heat with great élan. Denise Astorino plays the storyteller who goes mad when the story overtakes her. A soulful Lucy Bredeson-Smith is the human television elected ruler of the Kingdom of Do, a place "where nobody did." Geoffrey Hoffman is terrific as Rabbit, whose love for Poona is usurped by a preening Bret T. Holden as the conceited, handsome Prince. Smooth-talking Wes Shofner is the ultimate salesman as the Man Who Could Sell Anything; he also delivers an extremely droll performance as God reading The Da Vinci Code.

Except for Batkovic, the ensemble members play multiple roles with impressive facility. Christine L. Jones' costumes, from a giant phallus and a talking shrub to aliens and a frog waiter, are a terrific sideshow in themselves. Colleen Dowling's trick lighting transforms neon into a dragonlike figure that eats up everything. Ample use of visual images, from mushroom clouds to Iraqi warfare, hammers home the play's bleak message.

Director Clyde Simon employs his 50-seat black-box theatre, with its multiple exits and entrances, to great advantage in the many scene and costume changes.

Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children runs April 14-May 13 at Convergence-Continuum at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., Cleveland. Tickets: (216) 687-0074. Website: