I’m all too accustomed to staid, serious, artsy theater, and occasionally crave a loud, silly, kick-ass play — and if it’s outrageously in-your-face subversive, so much the better. Azuka Theatre Company’s premiere of JC Lee’s Pookie Goes Grenading scratches my itch.
Mary Tuomanen — who was an intriguing, intelligent Hamlet for Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre last year — plays 14-year-old Camden brat Pookie, whose hyperactive mind (illustrated by pink-blonde hair shooting from her head like crackling electricity) conceives an action movie starring herself. With the help of “BFF for F” Dynamo (Eric Scotolati), she aims to make capital-A Art that explains teen angst through her doughnut metaphor: “The hole prevents it from being whole.” Deep.
Pookie is a dervish of naive sexuality, glib pop-culture references and angry Twitter-fed politics. Haggard guidance counselor Mr. “Rags” Ragonesse (Brian McCann) actually listens to her, resulting in Pookie’s bouncing-off-the-walls declaration of love. Sad-sack hip-hop wannabe Dynamo, meanwhile, rejected by every girl in school, offers himself to “popular, hot and really, really cool” gay athlete Benny (Jamison Foreman), recruiting him for the project.
But all hell breaks loose when Pookie takes “you can’t make art without fire” literally, burning down the school auditorium with the titular weapons-grade explosives, then going fugitive with Mr. Rags as hostage. Joined on the lam by ultimate techie Greta (Brandi Burgess), her troupe presents her movie as a play that will “kick people in their heart-balls.”
All this hyperactivity doesn’t overshadow the clever wordplay and incisive ideas about sexuality, celebrity and art in director Kevin Glaccum’s colorful production. Costume designer Maggie Baker celebrates the depths of the color pink, scenic designer Roman Tatarowicz turns torturous student desks into sculpture, lighting designer Shelley Hicklin makes everything pop and sound designer Daniel Perelstein cranks up the rock.
“Everyone wants to be the idea of an actor,” laments Mr. Rags about the kids’ fantasies of stardom. Will fame trump art? Pookie answers with a fast, fun and refreshing adventure.
Through Nov. 18, $18-$27, Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St., 215-563-1100, azukatheatre.org.