Best of New Orleans
December 22, 2008
Among my reckless undergraduate impulses was to teach myself Latin, which I didn't study in high school. I decided to translate Catullus, a poet who lived in the first century B.C. Catullus' work is racy. In one satirical poem, he characterized two friends with words I had never encountered, so I looked them up in a Latin-English dictionary. Lo and behold, the words in question were translated not into English but into a Latin phrase. The phrase warned that the meaning of the words was so indecorous, it should not be translated — a linguistic Catch-22.
I am reminded of my frustrations as a scholar of the louche side of ancient Rome in relation to Jeff Goode's Poona The F**kdog, recently staged by the NOLA Project at Muriel's Cabaret at Le Petit Theatre. In fact, the play has a subtitle that's also a linguistic Catch-22. The full name is Poona The F***dog and Other Plays for Children.
Kate Kuen both directed and starred as Poona, a friendly but lonely dog. No other pooches want to play with her. Part of the reason for her loneliness, says the storyteller at the edge of the stage, is that her parents are divorced and she is from a lower-class background. These social and psychological excuses are soon forgotten, however. Poona gets a visit from her Fairy God Phallus (A.J. Allegra) wearing a costume that looked appropriate for a pagan fertility ritual conducted by college sports mascots. Poona also gains possession of a huge, pink box and invites various randy creatures in to play. The orgiastic Orgone accumulator helps her overcome her loneliness with a vengeance.
The story is postmodern or hypermodern or something of the sort. Logic is gossamer thin, making it hard to summarize the proceedings, but some of the most illogical occurrences are the funniest. Shrub (Michael Aaron Santos) gets fed up with his lowly role — upstaged by painted cardboard cutout shrubs. Breaking the plane and appealing directly to the audience, he puts on a masterful display of "shrubbing," and provides his own histrionic critique as he goes.
Poona is essentially a fairy tale, so it comes complete with the characters, paraphernalia and icons of story land. A handsome prince (Richard Alexander Pomes) runs around the forest and isn't terribly interested in Poona until she lets him play in her box. Other fanciful inhabitants include a dapper rabbit (Allegra), space aliens (Alex Martinez Wallace and Peter McElligott) and an animated TV (Claire Gresham). For dramatic convenience, there's a dragon ravaging the land, but it remains offstage.
These roles and many more are doubled and tripled among the company of eight actors. Various characters are proclaimed king — on the understanding it's the king's duty to get rid of the dragon. But nothing works, not even Jewish comedians. It's politically incorrect, of course, to slander the Borscht Belt and its standup Semites, but political incorrectness is the playwright's default setting. One of the space aliens is named "C**t" and both creatures are upset because their even-more-inappropriately named time-travel device is broken. These names have no meaning to the aliens but shock the earthlings who hear them.
The show is a free-flowing satire of anything and everything that may have crossed Goode's mind while writing. Some interludes barely relate to anything else in the play. There also are more traditional silliness and wordplay typical of children's literature: "The kingdom of Do, where no one did."
Under Kuen's capable direction, the cast had a ball with this romp. It's a play in which one should expect the unexpected. Even the intermission featured extra entertainment. The show's bite was every bit as good as its bark.