Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« Life Could Be a Dream | Main | The Maids »

Pookie Goes Grenading

It was announced that playwright JC Lee’s Pookie Goes Grenading would be the swan song of The New Theatre Project, which for three seasons has been bringing brash, brave programming to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti venues with guerrilla flair. It’s tempting to dissect the final production in this context, as the culmination of continuous evolution and the final vehicle for the company’s mission. But frankly, Pookie Goes Grenading is so funny that I don’t care what else it is. Director Emilie C. Samuelson catapults a savagely ebullient script into the kind of all-in production that could teach hyperbole a thing or two, and the result is as wildly hilarious as it is charmingly insane.

The play is marked by an all-consuming energy and conviction, qualities that are endemic of adolescence, which explains the mini-gymatorium evoked by the painted floor of the Mix Studio Theatre stage. Indeed, protagonist Pookie (Luna Alexander) is a high school student, with a dream of making a movie. And not just any movie — an action movie, starring Pookie, in which she exacts explosive metaphorical revenge against a psychopathic baker. Deterrents like having no equipment, budget, staff, or experience and the threatened wrath of school administrators are no match for Pookie’s intensely concentrated zeal; instead, she channels her vision into other forms of expression, with catastrophic results that elevate her status to that of vigilante artist and legitimate outlaw.

She’s not alone in her pursuit, but rather gathers a little cadre along the way. First is maligned sidekick Dynamo (Chris Jakob), the loner misfit who wants companionship, or respect, or, better still, just to know what he wants. Next is highly suggestible lapdog Benny (Artun Kircali), whose only currency is his popularity, until he dedicates himself to being Pookie’s theatrical acolyte. Unwittingly joining the proceedings is defeated guidance counselor Larry (Dan Johnson), who has utterly run out of tactics and energy to deal with the hard-headedness and improper devotion that Pookie levels at him constantly. The final piece of the puzzle is the dark influence of bargaining adversary Greta (Emily Roll), whose skills are needed to pull off the final spectacular coup.

A steady stream of obstacles, internal and external, make this a pretty standard hero story, but it’s marked by idiosyncrasies and disproportionate excesses for which designer Keith Paul Medelis (and ensemble) has crafted an insane unrealistic world. From the archetypal extremes of the costume design and kitchen-sink properties, to the multimedia interstitials and ingeniously cheap special effects, to the laughable DIY choreography (as well as fight work by Steve Xander Carson) and infectiously punchy sound design (by Eben Mannes), the choices are as big as possible and note perfect. The sum total effect reflects some amalgamation of video game, comic book, and comic-book-movie influences, in the same sphere as Tank Girl or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

The danger in combining so many screeching influences vying for attention is saturation. However, it’s clear here that the primary objective on every front is maximum comedy, and the show accordingly achieves a kind of clamoring harmony through its walls of laughter. Samuelson’s direction finds a light but gritty tone that ably serves the text, allowing Pookie’s dream to be taken seriously, while simultaneously mining humor from the subpar product of her vision. The entire ensemble contributes to a fine overall dynamic, but the standout is Alexander’s high-wire lead performance. From her exhausting pluck to her self-righteously lousy ideas to her supremely, wonderfully awful performance art, this Pookie is worthy of both affection and laughter — no small feat for a performer tasked with portraying an inexhaustible teenager convinced of her own genius.

As indicated by the title, there are suggested explosions in Pookie Goes Grenading. However, there are also lots and lots of donuts, and in this world, it may not be clear which is ultimately more dangerous. In all, the production is an absurdist triumph that is abundantly entertaining in its own right. The play treads a fine line concerning the reason for creating art and the realities of such expression, but there is no such conundrum in these 105 minutes — the simple journey of a kid-hero artist against all odds and the riotously bad portrayals of said “art” are awesome in equal measure.

Pookie Goes Grenading is no longer playing.