Screwing the Pooch

Those zany kids at Stray Cat Theatre have strapped a leash onto their new season, which they're opening with something called Poona, the Fuckdog -- a title as compelling as it is unprintable, at least in Phoenix.

"The Rep has Poona, the (Expletive) Dog," laughs Stray Cat's artistic director Ron May. "Get Out did that, too. The Echo showed it as Poona, the F***dog. And has it as just Poona, the Dog. Which isn't even the title of the play."

May saw this coming, having previously produced a show called Shopping and Fucking. "But that was four years ago!" he says. "And the response this time has actually been stronger. It's been four years and the newspapers still won't print the word `fuck'!"

May isn't surprised, really. And he swears that, while it was the title that first got his attention, it was Poona's script that convinced him to option the show -- a script that reads exactly as you'd expect it to: A fuckdog (whatever that is) named Poona is one day visited by her Fairy God Phallus, who teaches her to play a fun game in her big pink box. Because this is a fairy tale of sorts, she sets off for the Kingdom of Do, which is ruled by a giant television set. She meets space aliens, talks to God, and makes a lot of naughty wisecracks aimed at the super-cool twentysomething set, who will almost certainly turn out in droves despite the fusty, sweltering conditions at Stray Cat's new, temporary home.

Director Anthony Runfola's experience with children's theater -- he's worked with Childsplay, where he definitely never helmed any plays concerning people named Suzy-Suzy Cyber Assassin, in which talking shrubs complain about their blocking -- ought to come in handy here. Poona is presentational and fanciful, and Runfola must make each of playwright Jeff Goode's stories play like a fractured fairy tale that's simultaneously hopeful and ironic.

Poona may be written as a fairy tale, but it won't be playing anywhere near children. Out of respect for kiddy playhouse Valley Youth Theatre, where Stray Cat has lately been making its home, May and company have taken their fuckdog elsewhere.

"With our other shows, there would be parents coming to see The Hobbit or Grease [at Valley Youth], and they'd encounter us. So we're doing Poona at this cool space on Grand Avenue, and they've let us have complete run of the place. We can serve beer and wine, too."

The promise of a good, solid buzz at intermission will certainly help ticket sales, but May is banking on that magical four-letter word to really draw crowds. "With our audiences, you put the word `fuck' in the title and people come in droves," he says.

They also -- if they happen to work at local newspapers -- whip out their red pens.

"I mean, some [local newspapers] even had problems with the word `Poona,' too," May laments. "The Tribune said they couldn't print that word because they're a `family paper.' I don't even know what that means."

Maybe May should ask Poona. The Fuckdog.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela