Asleep in a heap under blue skies with fleecy clouds, the cast of Cartoon is jangled awake and into manic song and dance by an alarm clock, squelched by a mallet-wielding gal, who turns out to be the dictator of the grinning, ‘toonish clan.
The play by Steven Yockey is onstage down under LaVal’s in the Subterranean Theater Impact has for its home. Not exactly a musical, Cartoon is full of songs, some reprised from familiar sources, though there are long, untuneful stretches dedicated to the Cartoon form of character development, usually tongue-in-cheek. The cast is wired, and works hard under Mark Routhier ’s direction to achieve something akin to one of the side effects of Who Killed Roger Rabbit of yore—that is, exploit the irritating, even frightening aspect of Looney Tunes-type moving caricatures for dramatic purposes.
It’s successful in spurts, rushes of nonsensical activity, or sometimes in quiet humor, as when the strange, strutting, roaring character with feathery arms and talons, known as Rockstar, who the twin dolly schoolgirls swoon over, seriously explains why he seldom utters a single sound besides his variously-nuanced "grawr!’
Other times, it’s just a bit too schematic, a symbolic equation with adolescent or post-adolescent life in a security state, losing its cartoonish quality for the texture of the news, or a taste of the soaps.
But watching Damsel, the wind-up doll heroine, with meticulous clockwork movements, in a constantly frustrated courtship, initiated by Suitor, who presents her with a bouquet of dynamite sticks and other Warner Bros. gestures of tendresse, only to be blown away by a .45 when he finally overcomes his gaucherie and does the right thing with a bunch of roses, it’s possible to see where this exercise might have gone if the playwright had been consistent with the two-dimensional hysteria of his smiley brood.
Perhaps some of the rolling gait of that big band jazz that used to accompany Mickey Mouse & co. would give a little more of the eyeball-rolling, toothily grinning schizophrenia that seems to be missing from these frames out of a little controlled universe. Maybe it’s the soundtrack, but the show, despite a lot of gratuitous hard work, needs something more.
La Val’s Subterranean Theater
1834 Euclid Ave.
through March 10
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m.
Tickets $15 general/$10 students, seniors