New Orleans Times Picayune
December 18, 2008

NOLA Project 'Poona' at Le Petit: lots of talent, but a good thing stretched too far

Posted by David Cuthbert, Theater writer, The Times-Picayune December 18, 2008 4:25AM

Eight of the most talented young actors in New Orleans play more than 30 roles in Jeff Goode's comedy of anarchy, "Poona, and Other Christmas Stories Not for Children," the final production of The NOLA Project at Le Petit Theatre's Muriel's Cabaret.

The title of the show is actually, "Poona, the F---- Dog and Other Plays for Children," something of a bad joke. Although it has a fairy-tale structure, it is definitely not for children. Its ideal audience would probably be older teenagers and very young adults, who would enjoy its single-entendre humor (one character is a "Fairy God Phallus"), blunt language, and caustic, mock-cautionary attitude toward "forbidden" words, casual sexuality, the danger of the media in general (a TV set is chosen king of a country), the Internet in particular, "rampant consumerism," the tendency for sports stars to get away with anything, nuclear annihilation, the after-life, theater and theater audiences and a blasphemous, aging Big Kahuna of a God.

It's more than a bit jejune, but this audience member enjoyed a good deal of it, especially the facility with which the actors switch roles with the skillful glee of a circus act, and the scattershot comic approach of a troupe who might be the Marx Bros.' grandkids. (Hustling and actually selling tequila at a buck a shot is an alcoholic version of the Marxes disrupting "A Night at the Opera" hawking popcorn and peanuts.)

But neither the playwright nor performers seem to have heard that "Brevity is the soul of wit," or the concept of "Always leave them wanting more." "Poona" could be a ribald, raucous, rebellious riot of a show, at an intermissionless 90 minutes. But stretched to 2 1/2 hours, it taxes the patience and the posterior.

Jim Fitzmorris was the "guest storyteller" who opened the show, telling us that it takes place "Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the far away land of Allegory and Myth, or maybe not so far away at all." Then, switching to rant mode: "Maybe I'm talking about you! Maybe you're the problem and I'm the solution!"

Blackout, yells, the sounds of struggle and Fitzmorris is replaced for the rest of the evening, mostly by Pete McElligott, who is also the hippy-dippy God and gets the best line of the play: "This is supposed to be an ensemble, but it feels more like every man for himself!" That's "Poona" in a nutshell.

Dishy Kate Kuen plays the salaciously saucy Poona, who is willing to get into her big pink box (a cousin of Woody Allen's Orgasmatron in "Sleeper") with a prince, rabbit or what-have-you. She's the "Candy"/"Candide" figure making her way through life in a series of disheveled sketches. Kuen is also the director whose organized chaos is very much at one with the play.

Everyone is kept busy: eager, energetic Richard Alexander Pomes as the "Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am" prince and lots of other roles; A.J. Allegra in and out of costume as the Phallus, a guard, the Rabbit and an angel; Claire Gresham's TV King and Suzy, the Internet Serial Killer; Alex Martinez Wallace in everything he does, but especially as the slick Man Who Could Sell Anything.

Special mention should go to Michael Aaron Santos as The Actor who takes playing a shrub ever so seriously. Kyle Herbert makes a good Clark Kent-ish reporter and is the unbearable intermission act who sings badly, plays guitar and takes requests, although every song winds up sounding like "The Girl from Ipanema."

"Poona" has performances Thursday through Saturday (Dec.18 - 20) at 8 p.m. at Le Petit Theatre's Muriel's Cabaret, 616 St. Peter St. Tickets are $15. The NOLA Project has a Sunday 8 p.m. show scheduled, too, but the annual Caroling in Jackson Square means that parking will be hard, if not impossible, for both actors and audiences to find.