at Factory Theater
Conceived as a send-up of the 70s PBS kids' series Zoom, this could have been a simply dreadful show in the wrong hands. But happily director Amy Seeley and her actors make Hooray! more than a mere parody of a sitting duck: touchy-feely, sickeningly sweet kids' TV.
Seeley adopts the basic structure of Zoom--an ensemble of young teenagers appear in a series of sequences in which they play didactic games, engage in "discussions," or read letters from listeners--but makes one crucial change. Instead of a TV world populated with the usual idealized representations of childhood, we get one kid from an interracial family, another who recently moved in from out of town and is having trouble fitting in, and a third from a broken home. True to the perky spirit of Zoom, however, they introduce their problems as if these were just interesting aspects of their lives. "Hi, I'm Buddy," someone will say, adding in an impossibly cheerful voice, "and my dad just left my mom." "Hi, I'm Cory," another says. "Both of my moms are lesbian, and I don't eat meat."
This honesty means that Seeley and her actors can use the show to comically explore the more painful aspects of adolescence. Later in the play, for example, Buddy reveals just how angry he is at his father for leaving home. Honesty also keeps the material from becoming cliched. Jenny Kirkland makes her self-absorbed cheerleader type much more than just another bimbo because, in a segment about how important it is to be upbeat if you want to attract boys, she suddenly reveals how much of her perkiness is actually an attempt to deny unhappiness at home.
The show also contains moments of garden-variety comedy. One of the better repeated gags pokes fun at those impossible arts-and-crafts projects they used to push on Zoom: in one sequence, a potato taken out of the garbage is turned into what looks suspiciously like a dope pipe, and in another an incredible stereo system is created from a couple of coffee cans, some old coffee filters, some twine, and a used car battery.
Hooray! also supplies plenty of plain old silliness. The ensemble's salute to the Beatles is full of self-consciously bad choreography and laughably literal interpretations of the music--the sequence in which "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is acted out is especially marvelous.
But it's hardly surprising that the Factory Theater, responsible for such inspired but idiosyncratic shows as Bitches, an all-drag take on the case of the Texas mom who was accused of hiring a hit man to kill her daughter's cheerleading rival, and a musical based on the dreadful cult movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would find a fresh way to parody a television show.
It is surprising that George Brant, who wrote Lovely Letters, a well-received parody of A.R. Gurney's gimmicky star vehicle Love Letters, would be as wide of the mark as he is in Sitcom. Though I was not among the critics who kvelled over Lovely Letters--much of that overlong one-act seemed overwritten and painfully obvious--it was good enough to give me hope that Brant's next play would be something worth seeing.
As it turns out Sitcom is far, far worse than Lovely Letters, based on a premise that was old 20 years ago: a comedy that parodies sitcoms. Brant fills his play with intentionally unfunny lines that receive big laugh-track guffaws and builds his plot around a situation too stupid and dull even for television--Dad is left alone on a day reserved for family togetherness, "family Sunday." The result is not very funny and not very interesting to watch.
Not that George Brant the writer is entirely to blame for this tedious hour-long exercise. George Brant the actor deserves some of the blame, delivering the dad's lines so smugly that the show's few genuinely comic moments are transformed into pure dross. And director George Brant (assisting director Derek Goldman) surely played his part, making certain each actor turned in a performance every bit as predictable and tiresome as the script.
While I'm at it, I might rage against George Brant the producer, because I suspect, though I have no direct evidence, that this is a vanity production. The more's the pity if it's not, since Sitcom is worse than any vanity production I've seen in a long time.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brian McConkey.