Who would have thought cartoon crazies could be ideal characters to discuss deep political and psychological issues? Steve Yockey apparently did, because his wacky play poses profound questions with every laugh. And thanks to this sharp ensemble and Tiger Reel's spirited direction, there are plenty of laughs jammed into 75 minutes. Cartoon works on several levels, but because many of the scenarios are cloaked in a blanket of absurdity, it will likely leave you thinking and discussing the play for the remainder of the evening.
The cast is on stage before the show begins, all apparently sleeping, until an alarm clock rings and bossy, loud Esther (Amy Mucken) slams her oversized hammer on the ground, causing the group to jump up and begin a cheerleaderlike chant introducing the archetype characters. There's Damsel and Suitor (Karen DeThomas and Kyle Pierce), who continually reenact a seemingly poetic, mute love scene, which is always interrupted by an act of violence. Yumi and Akane (Julie A. Sanchez and Julie Terrell) are teen best friends, obsessed with gossip and trends, and both are in love with Rockstar (Raymond Donahey), a bear who does little more than act cool and growl. Winston Puppet (Brian Helm) is held up by strings and longs to be free. And there's Trouble (Nikitas Menotiades), who lives up to his name and causes the society of cartoon people to face drastic changes when he steals Esther's hammer.
The scenes are announced by projected title cards and are accompanied by wacky sound effects (Reel serves as sound designer) and Matt Richter's rapidly changing and complex lighting. Reel's performers are on the same page, delivering a barely restrained, childlike mania that makes it possible to laugh at moments that, out of context, would seem dark. The most fascinating performances come from Mucken and Menotiades, who portray the instigators of the action. As Esther, Mucken wears a sweet smile and her voice has a Shirley Temple quality, but the faรงade disappears at key moments to reveal a tyrannical leader. Menotiades' Trouble is pure mayhem, which leads to the funniest moments.
Presented by Action! Theatre Company at the Art/Works Theatre,
6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Feb. 1-24.