Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children (December 4-20, 2009)

F**king with Poona

Alec Clayton blog:

I regret that I was not able to review “Poona the F**k Dog” for my newspaper column. I can review only one play a week. But if I had been able to review this one, I would not have been allowed to use the play’s title uncensored, and I would not have been able to say …

“Poona the Fuck Dog” is fucking funny.

Written by Jeff Goode during the presidency of George Bush, it is a political and social satire that nails Bush to the wall (with some barbs extended to the current White House), that skewers hypocrisy and consumerism in its many forms, that mocks society’s fear of dirty words in a manner Lenny Bruce and George Carlin would be proud of, and that celebrates hedonistic sex. It is presented in the form of a fairy tale for adults.

Performed by Theater Artists Olympia in the little Midnight Sun performance space in downtown Olympia under the direction of Robert McConkey, “Poona” is a rip-roaring comedy with an ensemble cast made up of many of the best actors in the South Puget Sound.

As in all good fairy tales, there is a wise and kindly storyteller (Scott C. Brown) to move the story along. But before the storyteller can begin his tale he is usurped by a false story teller (Lauren O’Neill) who turns out to be a psychotic killer and is hauled off to the loony bin or jail or somewhere. Then Brown, the true storyteller, comes out wearing a smoking jacket and puffing on a long-stemmed pipe and begins to read, “Once upon a time … there was a fuck dog named Poona,” and Poona (Alison Monda) makes her appearance as the lonely and unloved Poona nobody will play with. Her Fairy God Phallus (Christian J. Doyle) gives her a big pink box to play in, and suddenly everyone loves Poona (literally, has sex with) and can’t wait to play in her big pink box (have sex with).

Into this fairytale world comes a strange and wondrous collection of characters including a television who rules the world (O’Neill again), a couple of lost space aliens (Christopher S. Cantrell and Paul Purvine) a talking shrub (Erica Penn), a reporter (Tim Goebel) who is accidentally taken to heaven where he wins $500 in a bet with God, a sweet little girl named Suzy Suzy (Amy Shepard) who turns into a mass murderer and executes her victims with her computer (Heide Wisner) after being numbed by playing computer games, a fairytale Handsome Prince (Rob Taylor), a pair of angels (Pug Bujeaud and Heather Christopher), and other assorted characters. Even the stage hands get into the act (Wisner and Josh Palmer).

Monda turns in the most accomplished job of acting I have yet to see from her. She is sexy, innocent, sad, ecstatic, confused; constantly and quickly going through a huge range of emotional expressions while cavorting about stage and in her box with dance-like physicality and athletic skill. Her costumes are noteworthy as well, a dog suit and underwear throughout the first act, then a football uniform and finally an old lady house dress. Credit costume designer Sunny Jim Morgan for fabulous costumes made on a limited budget.

Brown, who has often proven his skill as a dramatic actor (I have twice named him best actor in my annual “Critic’s Choice”) shows in this play that he is also skilled as a comic actor who is quick on the uptake when responding to improvised remarks from other actors and audience members.

Penn is outstanding as the talking Shrub (a nod to Molly Ivins). Being the first of many actors to break the fourth wall in this play, she complains to the audience during a scene change that she’s too accomplished as an actor to be relegated to playing a shrub. And she proves it by doing Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” monologue. This Shrub is a philosopher and a poet, and a power to be reckoned with.

Purvine and Cantrell are outstanding as, respectively, The Man Who Could Sell Anything and God — and as the space aliens. One of the funniest and most inspired bits in the play is when the two of them toss back and forth two of the most offensive words in the English language in a rapid-fire kind of who’s-on-first routine.

Bujeaud and Christopher are funny angels and both double up in various other roles including a silly rabbit (Bujeaud) and a sadistic palace guard (Christopher). O’Neill is hilarious, and Doyle the troubadour penis sings in an infectious folksy style.

Poona the what?

Theater Artists Olympia goes there

By Christian Carvajal

Think back to the last children’s theatre you attended.  Remember how cuddly, eager and sweet it was?  Well, Theater Artists Olympia’s new show, Poona the Fuckdog, is not that show.  In fact, it’s the show that punched that show right in its fuzzy widdle belly and strolled off with its lunch money. I find TAO’s audacity refreshing, as it’s always entertaining to watch audience members wrestle with productions that are so in touch with their inner imps.  I also applaud TAO for choosing a script that demands shameless vulgarity, given actors’ common temptation to impose bawdy elements onto scripts that don’t benefit from them.

Director Robert McConkey tells interviewers his play — a loose series of sketches supporting a central narrative — is about the hypocrisy of declaring some words off-limits while ignoring more injurious offenses, but I think he knows it’s really about nothing deeper than the next big laugh — and there are plenty.  Each of the 14 cast members gets a chance to shine.  It must be said, however, that even as we’re laughing we notice how much of the comedy derives from shock value, and it’s hard to sustain that approach for long.  As most sketch shows eventually do, Poona runs out of gas an hour in, and an anticlimactic, indecisively staged act break doesn’t re-inspire confidence.  The second act puts Poona back on the rails.

Are you offended by depictions of sexual anatomy or behavior?  Then a playpen draped in pudenda won’t sit right — no pun intended — nor will Christian Doyle’s phallic costume, complete with turtleneck.  This show is ballsy in more ways than one.  But the ballsiest cast member has to be Alison Monda, so good as the Witch in Lakewood Playhouse’s Into the Woods, now radiating absolute star quality as the titular canine.  Her full-body commitment is evident throughout, from her scant wardrobe to abraded knees — dogs crawl a lot, and hump legs, and treat the heartbreak of heartworms — to licking her own drool off the floor of the Midnight Sun, a suicidal act tantamount to allowing Patient Zero to sneeze in your eye.  She plays both drunk and geriatric convincingly, and she even finds a new way to cry on stage.  Finally, given the nature of the show, it has to be said:  Alison Monda is one sexy dog, a sentence I was pretty sure I’d never have occasion to type in my life.

Chris Cantrell and Paul Purvine shine in at least two roles each, including an updated “Who’s on First” duet about extraterrestrials with unfortunate names.  Scott Brown underplays masterfully, and Rob Taylor channels Prince Humperdinck in a role he accepted a mere week before opening.

The few weak bits suffer primarily from a collision of acting styles.  It’s hard to fit presentational and representational acting into a single production.  Cantrell and Brown live in the moment of each scene, playing honestly, and we laugh because we empathize.  Others orate directly and insincerely to the audience in the manner of emcees.  This self-distancing risks coming across as a desire to be loved, and it adds to the camp factor of a script that already has plenty.

The highest compliment I can give Poona, or its parent company TAO, is that without productions so vital, so willing to challenge or even offend, there’s little reason to write new scripts at all.  We could simply coast on the merits of a hundred dusty old standbys, a path many companies follow toward short-term lucre…and inevitable decline.

Poona the Fuckdog runs one final weekend at the Midnight Sun in Olympia.

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