Take a children's TV show, add an obsession with bodily fluids, Twinkies and Wagnerian opera and what do you get? "Stumpy's Gang: A Comic Mutation," the bizarre "adult comedy" at the Zephyr Theatre.
A Chicago troupe named White Noise takes the credit--or blame--for this often repellent one-act about Frank Bubman (Jim O'Heir), a deranged janitor at GenetiCo, an evil research and development firm. The child-like Bubman gets his kicks by rescuing deformed animals after genetics experiments and then casting them in a secret kiddie show he pretends is televised. His dream is to teach the mutants to perform sections from Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The mutants respond to this pressure by screaming and spitting up blood.
Needless to say, watching "Stumpy's Gang" can be a disturbing experience--kind of like "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" on a bad acid trip. Writer and co-director Jim Cannon takes satiric aim at the military-industrial complex--the GenetiCo logo, for instance, eerily resembles a Nazi swastika--but by the end the viewer may be too grossed out to care.
The creators deserve plaudits for special effects. The mutant puppets--especially Gristle, a rotting dog--are convincingly repulsive. Some video segments played over a stage monitor have been nicely done, and the buckets of stage blood put Quentin Tarantino to shame. Sitting in the front row is not advised.
* "Stumpy's Gang: A Comic Mutation," Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Sundays 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 4. Free-$15 (price determined by spinning a giant Twinkie). (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
'Call Waiting' a Thin If Amusing Debut
"Call Waiting," at the Odyssey, is the first play by Dori Fram, a local housewife who says she has been scribbling away in private for years. The script still needs a lot of work, but it's a fairly promising comedy debut.
Fram has evidently minded the oft-stated stricture to neophyte writers everywhere: Write what you know. Judy Baxter (a superbly ironic Caroline Aaron, last seen in "The Sisters Rosensweig"), is a Westside housewife sidelined in bed with a painful urinary condition. She bides time by talking--and talking, and talking--with friends and family on the phone. The long-distance companies must love her.
Among the subjects: nose jobs, cats, weddings, yoga and New Age guru Marianne Williamson. Yet Baxter's chief preoccupation is her husband, George, whom she suspects is having an affair.
Despite all this talking, Fram doesn't seem to have much to say. She knows how to write clever one-liners, but the piece as a whole lacks the sort of insight or perspective that could make it really involving. The viewer never figures out whether Fram means to ridicule or flatter women like Fram. And an attempt to link Baxter's suffering to the Holocaust is really a wrong number.
* "Call Waiting," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Mondays-Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 29. $17.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.