Times are tough in Waukegan. It's hot, it's boring and Mom is downstairs whipping up the latest in a never-ending parade of tuna casseroles. Our heroes would love to get away (shoot, they're so desperate that even Indiana sounds good), but when you're just a couple of kids and talking sheep, your travel opportunities are limited.
So begins "Revenge of the Space Pandas," a children's play staged by South Coast Repertory's Young Conservatory Players on the Costa Mesa theater's Second Stage. The show, written by David Mamet, runs through Sunday.
Wait a minute. David Mamet? The guy behind such blistering works as "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Sexual Perversity in Chicago?" Yep. But don't sweat it, parents, this one is strictly G-rated.
As seen at last Friday's dress rehearsal, "Pandas" is a playful tale about whiz kids Binky and Vivian, and Bob, a sheep with a gift for gab. With the help of Binky's latest invention, the trio hurl themselves through time and space to the planet Crestview, a pit stop in the Great Goose Galaxy peopled by tie-dyed pandas, an overzealous executioner and a Supreme Ruler with a taste for natural fibers.
When the head man takes a liking to Bob's woolly coat, he'll do anything to get it--even if it means "whacking out the kids" with a bonk by the nastiest pumpkin this side of Halloween.
"Pandas," directed by SCR's Young Conservatory founder and director, Diane Doyle, is the perfect summer vacation fare. There are no lessons to learn, no messages to decipher. It's just plain fun, with plenty of comic book characters and boffo sight gags for the kids, and a smattering of Mamet-style witticisms for mom and dad.
Most of the one-hour show flows smoothly, aided by slick touches by SCR production staff and guest artists. Rhonda Winger-Earick's cartoonish costume designs are especially good; the Supreme Ruler's pizza-box hat and outlandish collar are straight out of a bad sci-fi flick, and Bob's cuddly coat and red high-tops are endearing. The show stumbles slightly during an off-the-wall video sequence and two rather incongruous scenes with a rapping, boom box-toting Court Jester.
The "Pandas" cast features graduates of SCR's Young Conservatory, a theater training program for children ages 8 and up, so their overall polish comes as no surprise. Tyler Morgan and Jennifer Kaufman do an admirable job as Binky and Vivian, and Justin Walvoord is the most congenial sheep you'd ever want to split a tuna casserole with.
Jonny Riley as the Executioner and Saul Wheeler as the Retainer (Hank to his friends) are delightfully villainous. Adult actors Lynn Capri, Jim McElenney and Larry B. Crabbe come across well without overpowering the children's performances. Capri is the Everymom, fussing over her casserole and her kids with equal concern. McElenney's Supreme Ruler blusters and postures with the best of them, while Crabbe's faded matinee idol Edward Farpis has a touching, weary dignity.
What: "Revenge of the Space Pandas," presented by South Coast Repertory's Young Conservatory Players.
When: Friday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 15, at 4 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 16, at 2 and 4 p.m.
Where: SCR Second Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Street. Right on Town Center Drive.
Wherewithal: $6 to $10.
Where to call: (714) 957-4033.