Sometimes, the key to comedy is not trying too hard. That's a lesson I wish playwright Jeff Goode had thought about when penning Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children, now being staged by Mercury Players Theatre at its MercLab space on Fair Oaks Avenue.
After watching a sombrero-wearing penis sing a song about tequila, a repeated Abbot-and-Costello-esque bit about the confusion surrounding a space alien character named Cunt, and other assorted bits, I was ready to cry uncle. There's wackiness, and then there's throwing everything at the audience, hoping something will stick. A play like Poona doesn't need to clock in at over two hours, nor does it need to repeat gags as much as it does.
Poona starts with a simple setup that the playwright should have stuck to. We're introduced to title character Poona (Megan McGlone), a lonely pooch who doesn't have any friends. A Mr. Rogers-like narrator (Dean Nett), clad in a cardigan and tie and holding a storybook, begins to tell us her tale.
Soon, a Fairy God Phallus (Sean Langenecker) tells Poona about a game she can play. Poona winds up using sex as a way to get people to like her, including an odious prince who occasionally slugs her in the abdomen (eliciting laughs from some of the audience, who knows why).
While Poona wears its naughtiness on its sleeve, to the extent that it makes a point about anything, its targets are as broad and easy to hit as the proverbial barn: TV, crass commercialism, the way technology can depersonalize human interaction.
But I doubt Poona is trying to teach the audience a lesson; if anything, it's in direct opposition to that idea, poking fun at a didactic approach to theater. And that's perfectly OK; it just needs to be funnier. While the first act has its moments, the second half of the show drags.
One of the funnier moments is a scene with Casey Sean Grimm as a frustrated shrub. Mixing in amongst fake plants with no people inside them, Grimm's character laments how he, an MFA-trained actor, is given such a thankless role, and then tosses off a few lines of Shakespeare to show his chops. It's a funny bit that will speak to frustrated artists everywhere.
Jess Evans-Grimm is well-suited to perky, innocent characters with goofy voices, such as a rabbit and a little girl named Suzy Suzy, a young nerdling who learns to tap into her dark side (like most cast members, Evans-Grimm plays multiple roles).
Megan McGlone plays Poona with gusto, and Nett as the Mr. Rogers figure is appropriately soothing. Some of the technical elements are well done, like Mark Steward's costumes and Moritz Burnard's sound design.
Yet I fear this production, directed by Douglas Holtz, suffers from a common malady of local community theater (not just Poona): it looks like the cast is having blast -- and the cast's friends in the audience -- but the material just isn't funny enough for everyone else.