The Blue Puppies Cycle
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 30, 2007
Cagey Productions describes its current project, The Blue Puppies Cycle, as the 1950s sitcom that Ionesco and Sophocles might have written (had they written sitcoms in the 1950s). Sophocles feels like a bit of stretch, but The Bald Soprano and Ozzie and Harriet are clear and significant referents, among others of their respective ilks: especially in its near-perfect first episode (of four), the collision of dark absurdist satire and passive consumerist complacency makes for a hilarious and pungent combination. It also inspires its creative team—led by writer/director David Vining—to push the bounds of imagination to craft a genuinely inventive theatrical adventure.
The idea of Blue Puppies is that it is a '50s-era sitcom—or more accurately, one that's been refracted through an absurdist prism and then filtered through the rowdy contemporary sensibility of, say, Married...with Children. So the evening begins with a crystal-voiced announcer (the invaluable Randy Harmon) standing at a mike under a flashing "On Air" sign, introducing "this week's" episode of "The Blue Puppies Show," sponsored by Brylcreem ("Just a dab'll do you"). And then we watch the "show," a formulaic trifle involving couch-potato Tom, his perfectly-coiffed lusty wife Pamela, and their dog, Rudolf, who is blue, can talk, and possesses other super powers. In tonight's episode, Tom and Pamela are visited by a fast-talking stranger named Bob Rorschach, who says he is selling aluminum siding but is actually making a pass at (the all-too-receptive) Pamela—until Rudolf steps in and saves the day by revealing Rorschach's true identity (an inspired surrealism gag).
We then pause for what amounts to a live-action commercial (for Reese's peanut butter cups, though I can't remember if the product is actually mentioned in this particular case), and then we're instructed to follow a "costumed character" to another area of the Chocolate Factory space, where Episode II unfolds. (The audience moves two more times, before each of the remaining episodes.) This sketch, entitled "Blue Puppies in Hell," repeats the pattern of Episode I but in darker shades: the stranger at the door turns out to be a man named Lew C. Frrr.
The sitcom's structural elements gradually wither away in the successive segments, replaced by weirder absurdist plot details and increasing incidents of product placement within the episodes. The mirror is cracking, which is a grand conceit: unfortunately Vining doesn't really have a solid ending for it, and the final episode, "Blue Puppies on the Couch" is at once too self-referential and too quick to summarize and explain what the evening is supposed to have been about.
But even if The Blue Puppies Cycle doesn't quite live up to its substantial aspirations, it is nevertheless richly entertaining, deliciously imaginative, and often very funny. Christina Nicosia and Andrew Hurley are effective as the caricatured married couple Pamela and Tom, while Karen Grenke is terrific as Rudolf, playing him as sort of a thinking man's (and angst-ridden) Scooby-Doo. A small cadre of "guest stars" also do fine work, my personal favorite being Kevin Lapin, who portrays one of Blue Puppies' zanier concoctions, a French Canadian puppeteer whose alter ego is called Bonhomme the Snowman.
The design team has done exemplary work, notably Asta Bennie Hostetter's on-target costumes (along with the uncredited wigs and makeup) and Ann Warren's similarly evocative sound.
Vining and his colleagues at Cagey Productions prove themselves worth watching with The Blue Puppies Cycle. This show's blend of parody, surrealism, and gentle but pointed socially conscious satire makes for a refreshingly off-kilter theatre experience.