Burbank’s Victory Theatre is presenting another fascinating world premiere, “The World’s Largest Rodent.”
Funny, loony, sweet, obscene and written by a middle school teacher from Texas, “Rodent” tells the story of Billy, a smart, imaginative middle-school student who is dealing very poorly, for the time being, with things that no 13-year-old should have to deal with.
Billy’s mother is in a coma, and he’s dealing with his father’s abandonment, his 19-year-old sister’s tyranny, his sister’s macho live-in lover, his clueless school counselor and his lesbian girlfriend.
So Billy creates an imaginary friend — a talking, drinking, womanizing rodent who lives under Billy’s bed. Sadly, it doesn’t take long to figure out that another word for “rodent” is “rat.” If you’re hoping that Billy’s rodent is as good a friend to Billy as Harvey, the imaginary white rabbit, was to Elwood P. Dowd, hope again. Happily, this is a comedy, and Billy finds hope in a better place.
Everything about the casting is just right. As the nerdy, needy Billy, a kid who has a wicked way with PowerPoint slides in the classroom, 17-year-old Andy Gobienko carries the entire show on his totally capable shoulders.
Kelly Van Kirk handles multiple roles, including the constantly buzzed rodent of the title, with the openness and aplomb of a bald Brendan Fraser. As Billy’s muddle-headed porn star of a sister Meg, Kim McKeon is gorgeous and great, especially considering she can keep a straight face watching Vincent Giovanni’s Reynaldo.
Giovanni commands the stage like a delightfully appealing Antonio Banderas, on hormones.
The scene where Reynaldo teaches young Billy how to work up to that first kiss with a girl, using two stuffed teddy bears for practice, is classic.
Aria Noelle Curzon is sweet, innocent, daffy and frustrating as Billy’s friend Chastity (of course).
And rounding out the excellent cast is Mary Carrig in the totally thankless role of a suicidal mother in a coma.
Director Tom Ormeny seems to have handled both his cast and his writer in the best way possible — by giving them the freedom to become as wonderful as they can be.
Writer Don Zolidis clearly loves the people he has created, all the more so because of their flaws, and that means we can love them, too.
If there are any qualms with this particular early production, it has to do with some still unanswered questions in the script, like why does everyone behave like they are part of Billy’s fantasy world, even if Billy isn’t there?
Or, why is religion such a target for sarcasm and scorn, even when Billy’s prayers are answered? And if this is a play that should be seen by middle school and high students, why are there so many adult situations?
Sure, kids are exposed to swearing, sex and hypocrisy at school. But if it doesn’t make life better for them in school, how can it make life better for them at the theater?
“The World’s Largest Rodent” remains great fun for the over 18 set.
To the Victory Theatre’s eternal credit, this latest production shows that when they say their vision is to introduce “new ways of looking at the fascinating chaos of our lives,” they mean it.
And in a world full of swearing, sex and hypocrisy, a little integrity goes a very long way.
MARY BURKIN is a Burbank actress and playwright and Glendale lawyer.