I knew it was going to be a long night when Koko! The Island Adventures of Miss Koko Neufchatel began with the show's lone actor dragging a couple of audience members onto the stage to wish them happy birthday. Note to local directors: Theater is not Chuck E. Cheese's, and actors -- despite appearances to the contrary -- are not birthday clowns.
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Koko! sounds good on paper, and is actually quite well-written. It's essentially a trio of long monologues by and about an outrageously garbed drag queen who, in the Artists Theatre Project production, is played by three different actors on different nights. Koko regales us with stories about her days as a castaway on a desert island, where she performed drag numbers for chimpanzees and warred with a visiting missionary who eventually saves her life.
The Koko I and the rest of the unfortunately rowdy audience got last Saturday was Doug Loynd, a man who obviously spent more time applying his blue glitter lip gloss than he did studying his script. Loynd began the evening by forgetting his lines, then devoted the rest of his performance to screwing up what he did recall. He spent so much of his time proving his lack of memorization skills that he forgot to act, and the result was more a badly bungled recitation than anything approaching performance. The pair of mechanized talking Styrofoam totem poles that flank the stage (designed and executed by playwright David Maxey) displayed greater acting skills than did our Mr. Loynd.
Koko! The Island Adventures of Miss Koko Neufchatel
Continues through Sunday, April 24, at the Alwun House, 1204 East Roosevelt Street. Call 602-614-4154.
Still, I wanted to like Koko!. From what I could tell, the writing was skillful, the language bright with pop culture references and the script littered with silly sound bites. One hilarious monologue finds Miss Koko bemoaning the loss of all she ever took for granted (carpet cleaning, junk mail, the recordings of Olivia Newton-John); another concerns her desire to make over her nemesis the missionary. But Loynd's readings were jumbled and flat. When he stumbled his way through a bit about Miss Koko's chimp audience pelting her with feces, I wished for some turds of my own to throw.
It didn't help that Koko's three 20-minute acts were followed by 20-minute intermissions, which the audience spent getting liquored up at Alwun House's outdoor bar. By Act Three, the already unruly audience was shit-faced and hollering at Miss Koko, who finally lurched and sputtered his way to a curtain call involving a musical number and a pair of dancing "island boys." I was already on my way to my car, eager to put this Miss Koko's travails behind me and hoping that, if you go see her, she'll be enlivened by an actor who bothered to read his script.