Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1999
Once one of the most interesting young writing talents in the off-Loop scene, Jeff Goode now is living in Los Angeles, hacking away at screenplays and hawking pilots to the likes of MTV.
The defection of the author of the hit Christmas show, "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," initially seemed a loss for the Chicago theater, not least because Goode is in equal parts funny, angry, imaginative, crude and hopelessly over the top.
But in all probability, writing for angina-laden commercial entities will provide Goode with some much-needed discipline (as well as a lot more cash than you get premiering theatrical works at the impoverished Trapdoor Theatre). Because if Goode is given free rein (as was usually the case in Chicago), he tends to end up with a show with a surfeit of creativity and a minimum of focus. Or, to put it another way, Goode knows how to create a quite brilliant theatrical mess.
But assuming you make your way past an unnecessary expletive in the title that, for purposes of taste, has been eliminated here, the play is actually a wicked and funny adult parody of children's stories. Narrated by a bunch of sleazy Mr. Rogers types, this collection of fractured fairy tales follows the lifelong exploits in the Kingdom of Doo of the play's lovable heroine, Poona the dog.
A kind of long-suffering Everypooch, Poona encounters various other weird creatures on her life travels, including a nasty prince, a depressed frog, a rabbit that is quickly shredded, a talking television set, a walking VCR and a Man Who Can Sell Anything. Amid the fantastical and manic dramatic action (enough to spark nightmares in the soundest sleeper), Goode has a purpose. In cleverly obscured ways, he attacks materialism and political passivity, makes a plea for artistic freedom, satirizes contemporary conservative mores, and worries about the encroachment of technology.
Happily, Goode has always enjoyed strong collaborators. And Cheryl Snodgrass' adroit, energetic and passionate direction makes for one of the best productions in Trapdoor's history. The highlight of a big young cast, Inger Hatlen attacks her canine role like it's a Renaissance queen. She's terrific.
Although only for the very open minded and the avowedly off-center, "Poona" is worth a look. Given the ravenous fashion in which TV gobbles bright and wacky young writers, Goode should do very nicely in La La Land.
But they won't let him write stuff like this.
New City, January 22-24, 1999
In his theatrical acid trip to the outer limits of modern mass-media manipulation, playwright Jeff Goode creates a universe where fairytales show their true demented colors. Ingratiating narrators on a saccharine high take the squeaky clean premise of bedtime storytelling and hack it to pieces that regenerate into: child cyber-assassins, the sexually promiscuous title canine, a Fairy God-Phallus who appears at the onset of puberty, a star football player who gets away with murder and a fire-breathing dragon that sparks a nuclear holocaust. Although the twisted exploits of Poona (played with glib innocence by Inger Hatlen) propel the action, Lisa Lewis' mega-watt portrayal of a TV set that becomes the leader of the Kingdom of Do drives this often misguided play. Director Cheryl Snodgrass draws out some irreverent characterizations from her contrivance-conscious cast. A brilliant sequence on TV censorship, a pair of aliens draw attention away from the playwright's terrifying commentaries on moral inertia and an obsessive interest in pop-culture disposability. Goode is a cynical observer of the deadly lies lurking beneath the perky veneer of our society. (LM) Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland, (773)384-0494. Wed-Sat 8pm. $12, Thu two-for-one. Through Feb 6.
Chicago Reader, Friday, January 22, 1999
Jeff Goode's most frequently produced play in Chicago is The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, a
witty anti-Christmas show. Poona the Fuckdog takes a similar approach--only here Goode's
deconstructing children's theater. The show is purportedly a series of fairy tales dramatized for
children, but from the beginning it goes awry. For one thing, the cuddly pooch around whom
most of the stories are structured, Poona, turns out to be a precocious, sexually active girl dog.
Goode takes even the most innocent of childhood images--such as a large toy box--and gives it a
sleazy meaning, as Poona repeatedly invites her lovers to play with her in her pink box. Goode
even subverts his own soap-operalike tale by introducing characters lifted from other fairy tales
(fire-breathing dragons, a whole kingdom of unhappy folk) and TV land (aliens, even a
power-mad television set). The result is sometimes clever, sometimes just plain stupid, one minute
skewering TV for dumbing us all down and the next indulging in the same mind-numbing sitcom
silliness--but in the end you have to like a show this complex and fast paced that never flies into
chaos. Director Cheryl Snodgrass and a cast of fine comic actors deserve credit as well.
The Stranger, May 6-12, 1999
A Fuckdog For All Seasons
by Adrian Ryan
Once upon a time, there was a magical and mysterious land called Open Circle Theater. This was the home of Poona the Fuckdog and all her woodland friends -- and Poona has lots of friends. This wasn't always the case. Once upon a time Poona was a very lonely fuckdog, indeed. That is, until her Fairy God Phallus taught her to play a fun game with her big pink box, and then she became one popular fuckdog. One day, Poona traveled to the Kingdome of Do (where nobody did) and had some fabulous adventures. She met the king, an all-powerful television set who ruled the land. She also met Suzy-Suzy the Cyber Assassin, a little girl who could kill with her personal computer, and a couple of lost space aliens who tossed around the two most offensive words in the English language like a Frisbee. She even got to talk with God! Now Poona is an old, old fuckdog and wants to share her story with you.
Described as "bedtime stories for grown-ups" by Open Circle's Artistic Director Scott Bradley, Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children is that and so much more. It is an X-rated morality play that touches upon every evil of American society: sexuality reduced to commodity, rampant consumerism, slavery to mass media, the desensitization of children through animated violence, consequence-free murder, nuclear holocaust, racism, classism, and all that other fun junk. And it does this without ever reducing itself to wagging its finger in your face. Poona reinvents every social cliche as if it were a naughty and very funny joke told by an intelligent kindergartner. It is smart, bold, and insightful, poignant without being preachy and meaningful without being sappy. Not to mention shit-yourself hysterical.
From the quaint and effective set and masterful sound and lighting effects to the brilliant
ensemble cast that understands, and consistently delivers, intelligent, cutting-edge humor,
everything about Open Circle's Poona is first class. Karen Gruber is adorable as Poona and
Brandon Whitehead is hilarious as the Fairy God Phallus, while scene-stealing Sean Eagon and
Kim Nyhous brought the house down as the wayward aliens. Written by Jeff Goode and directed
by Basil Harris, Poona the Fuckdog is two hours of theater magic that will go down in infamy.
RedCard.Com, May 4, 1999
Seattle Press, May 20, 1999
|Karen Gruber as Poona|
© Portions by The Seattle Press, the author(s) and
Datacore Web Publishing. All rights reserved. 2422:18
The New Yorker, December 13, 1999
New York Theatre Experience, December 1999
Jeff Goode's smart new comedy parodies of children's stories and satirizes commercialism,
Republicans, conservatives, and lots of other worthy targets. This is from adobe theatre company,
and it's better than it's title suggests. Closes December 17, 1999.
lvCITYLIFE.com - news & culture weekly: Dec. 16-22, 1999 Issue
By Anthony Del Valle
Our Backs to the Wall Players have been careful to make clear that their production of Poona the Fuckdog (and Other Plays for Children) is really not a play for children. But they may be wrong.
It's about--well, I'm not sure what it's about. But it's got a girl/dog named Poona who gets a pretty box to play in, and all kinds of good-looking creatures--including a handsome prince and an intellectual frog--who come to play with her, but then she gets to be known as an object, a very desirable fuckdog but not a real dog with feelings, and then there's this nuclear holocaust, and an argument with God about the nature of evil, and Poona realizes her mistakes, and then a time machine sets us back to before the play began and we're told to go home. I've left out a few things--like the talking penis (named Fairy God Phallus) who gets very uncomfortable when Poona inadvertently rubs up against him, and the piece of shrubbery who's pissed that his thespian talents aren't appreciated. But the gist of it all is (I think) a morality tale about being nice.
Poona is a series of sketches about dehumanization. The characters have all learned the importance of not caring about each other. When Poona is hurt by people like the Handsome Prince, who only wants to use her, she hardens her resolve, turns her back on her friends, and becomes a callous career woman (she's the Super Bowl champion of fuckdogs). No characters care much for anyone else in this show. The most poignant moment may be when a pair of aliens (one body; two heads), who are afraid of insulting Poona and her friends and keep repeating "No offense," are told by Poona, "None taken." There's a cheer from the other characters, and the world seems to have learned something. It's not a big, revolutionary moment, but it seems like the best the world can do at the moment.
Jeff Goode's play, written in 1995 and premiered at a small Seattle theater, is steeped in irreverent humor--but not cynicism. It has childlike affection at its core, and seems to be lamenting our loss of innocence--most notably, the innocence of childhood. The term "a play for the '90s" is so misused, but it's apt here. Goode's characters have lost their capacity for empathy. They seem to have had a part of their brain dimmed, perhaps from too many video games or too many hours in chat rooms. There's a peculiar modern-day feel to his characters' apathy. They're emotionally half-dead. And that's why it may indeed be an appropriate children's play--an opportunity for parents to discuss why the characters seem so starved for stimulation. (Isn't this "starvation" at least part of the reason children in "nice schools" are suddenly shooting each other?)
Goode's script is marvelously inventive, and yet a tad too clever. Some of its targets--consumerism, couch potatoes, public relations--are easy and generic. We've heard this preaching before in much more specific ways. He wants to hit so many targets that sometimes the play is all over the place, which puts it nowhere. And too often we can't figure out whose story this is supposed to be (there's a reporter character who takes over early in the second act, and we start to see everything through his eyes instead of Poona's).
But just when you think you've tuned in to Goode's brand of humor and can't be surpassed anymore, you get surprised. The script needs more shape, more discipline. But it would be well worth the work.
It's been a long time since such a large Vegas community theater cast (eight actors tackling about 30 characters) has created such a dazzling ensemble effect, while standing out as individual cast members. There isn't a weak link in the cast, and that consistency hints at Linsey Hamilton's strong directorial hand. You feel as if the show were put together in a creative environment of trust, where all the talent was able to relax and feel free to explore.
Bobby Rodgers is the storyteller, eloquent and silver-toned and neurotic and self-involved. Cathy Clagett is, among other things, a perpetually pissed-off crew member and one-half of a robotic-speaking, two-head alien. She's a natural onstage. Adam Hamilton--who also co-wrote the show's score with Doug Hill--is a great piece of angry shrubbery and an equally convincing laid-back frog. He can even impersonate a human being when he has to. Thomas Turner seems to understand his role as the penis, and brings a vocal authority to the show that we've never seen from him before. Joanna Durso has a playful turn in a series of false-sunshine roles that may have you forever hating all false smiles. Doug Hill gives us a series of genuinely quirky characters, including a Carmen Miranda-challenged God. Brian Anderson is nearly unrecognizable from character to character, from his long-haired retrograde artist to his beer-guzzling coach potato to his somber reporter who manages to win $500 by stumping God with a philosophical question.
Jocelyn Pryde Hughes has a remarkable plaintiveness as Poona. At times she resembles an exposed nerve: taut and vulnerable, yet capable of being a lightning rod of pain. It would be easy to one-dimensionalize this role, but Hughes gives her character all the shadings it needs. We see Poona learning from her experiences. There's a variety to Hughes' physicality of her character so that we never tire of her. And best of all, Hughes makes us care. Poona's cruelty seems experimental, so that we sometimes boo her choices, but never boo her.
Director Hamilton gives the show the sort of improv feel that may have you believing the material is being made up on the spot. There's no dead air in this production. It's vibrantly alive, full of the kind of joy only live performance can bring.
Don't miss out by missing it.
Our Backs to the Wall Players' Poona the Fuckdog plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Planet Mirth, 5115 Industrial Road. Tickets are $10. Info: 254-0735.