Spies Like Us 

Prairie Dog Productions presents James Blonde

Though their theater is in my neighborhood, I had not been to any of Prairie Dog Productions' performances before James Blonde and was looking forward to going. I knew that PDP is proud of its parodies and people find them quite amusing, but I sucked down a gallon of coffee before I left because no matter how enthralling a stage performance may be, sitting quietly in the dark can lead to a little snoozing. I discovered that not only is it impossible to fall asleep when guffawing, but I didn't want to leave my seat until intermission and then sprinted to the ladies' room and back because I didn't want to miss a minute. It was not the experience I had expected--it was far better.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Prairie Dog Productions' co-owner Cammie Pavesic and lead to one of the dozen or so round restaurant tables--each of which had a basket of popcorn on it. I sat with three people who, when they found out I'd not been to a PDP play before, proudly informed me they'd been coming to the shows since the theater company was in its other location.

Gary Winterholler (who plays Baron Fred and later VavaVoom) came on stage dressed as a George Carlin-ish conductor to make a few announcements and to lead the audience in a round of "Happy Birthday" for one young theatergoer and "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" (presumably just for fun). He then informed the audience of our cues (I seemed to be the only person there who didn't know that PDP plays are group activities): When the piano played a certain group of notes, we were to boo the villain; a different group of notes were our cue to cheer the hero; and when the main character stated his name--"Blonde. James Blonde."--we were to voice what sounded like the first few notes of "Peter Gunn."

The plot of this goofy play was a little confusing but, roughly translated, is as follows: James Blonde (Robert McMinn) and his new American partner, Maximum Dumb (Frederick Scott, who also plays, briefly, an Olive Oyl-looking princess waiting to be rescued by Blonde in the first scene) are instructed with the help of spy devices from Blonde's boss, P (Mitch Barker), to prevent Baron Fred, who after an accidental sex change performed by Doctor Oppenheimer Lift (James Zimmerman) becomes Vava Voom, a fuchsia-haired, sequin-dress-wearing woman. Not the most beautiful creature, Voom decides to steal and adulterate the Ronald Ray Gun that, when shot at beautiful people turns them ugly, thereby making him/her the most beautiful man/woman in the world. To do this (I think), he must steal a formula--that includes Pop Rocks and Coke as ingredients--from Boise State lab student, Candy Kyle (Angela DeRisio), whose beauty is "hidden" behind glasses and a ponytail. Whew.

Regardless of zany plot convolutions, I wasn't the only person having a good time. With P, there were a couple of expected "pee" jokes, and the under-12 crowd (and some of the over-40 folks) were in hysterics. With respect to the acting, I was a little disappointed that neither McMinn's nor Barker's characters had British accents, even though several of the scenes were set in the auspices of Her Majesty's Secret Service at Westminster Castle. McMinn's acting was a bit stiff and his attempt to portray the suavest spy fell a little short. However, after a few scenes in, his poofy blond wig and blank stare reminded me of another not-so-bright character and coupled with the boisterous theater atmosphere--there were even a couple of hecklers--gave the show a whole Rocky Horror feel, which made it even funnier.

The singing and dancing scenes were quite clever and well-choreographed and in scene two of the second act, DeRisio, whose energy and delivery were great, and McMinn had to "swim" underwater through the audience. During this scene, the audience blows bubbles from the little bottles at each table to simulate underwater breathing. That was funny in itself, but it is in this scene that McMinn delivers one of the funniest lines in the play. (I won't spoil it here.)

The actors were clearly having fun with the material. Scott played Dumb as a loud-mouthed but sympathetic buffoon and his delivery as Blonde's foil was spot-on. DeRisio was an energetic, adorable love interest and Zimmerman's Dr. Lift played a stereotypical mad scientist whose obsequious manner played well against Winterholler's Fred/Voom. Ah, Winterholler--he stole the show. His characterization of Voom, the way he carried off the costume, his delivery--especially his evil laugh--and even his ad-libbing (remember: there were hecklers) were all so very funny.

If for you, good theater experience requires rows of plush theater seats, uniformed ushers and a reserved atmosphere, don't bother with Prairie Dog. But, if a good theater experience includes laughing and singing--by both actors and audience--and really enjoying yourself, go see a Prairie Dog play, especially this one.

Fri.-Sat., 7:15 p.m. April 9 matinee, 2 p.m. $12 adults, $9 students and seniors, $6 children 12 and under. Prairie Dog Productions, 3820 Cassia St., 336-7383.

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