Thursday, February 7, 2002

Canard, Canard, Goose?

February 7 - 14, 2002

By the Civilians. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Dir. Steve Cosson.
With ensemble cast.
HERE (see Off-Off Broadway).
by David Cote

The Civilians, a company of seven fresh-faced kids, bop around dressed in earth-toned T-shirts and slacks. To zippy piano accompaniment, they launch into their very own theme song: "We're the Civilians and we're gonna getcha / We're here by the millions, do we rock? You betcha." O-Town, eat your hearts out!

A coceyed homage to documentary theater such as The Laramie Project as well as '80s teen-sleuth icon the Bloodhound Gang, the conceit of Canard, Canard, Goose? is that a group of vaguely concerned actors search out news stories and dramatize them. Their social-crusader zeal, however, is mixed with the rueful knowledge that they're quite incompetent as reporters. Halfway through, you expect some guy in a Scooby-Doo costume to jump out of the wings. As silly as this mélange of sketch comedy, song and dance may be, it provides a surprisingly intelligent showcase for the ensemble and for composer Michael Friedman.

Our heroes get fired up by rumors of maltreated geese during the making of Fly Away Home, the sentimental 1996 Disney flick that featured Anna Paquin leading geese south in an ultra-light plane. Soon the Civilians are driving far upstate to Long Lake, New York, to grill locals on what really happened. The middle part of the show includes funny but affectionate impersonations of the eccentric and lonely folks who live in that remote hamlet. After two days of interviews, however, the group discovers that Fly Away Home was actually filmed in Ontario. Songs and silly dances are interspersed among the members' increasingly desperate updates on their deteriorating investigation.

The fine actors, who juggle characters and locales with playful aplomb, deserve mention. Colleen Werthmann hams up her street bee-yatch shtick to great effect. The glamorous Aimée Guillot gamely fills the blond stereotype. Damien Baldet has the clueless oddball down pat. Jennifer Morris nails WASP uptightness. Charlie Schroeder specializes in the borderline loner. Aysan Celik takes on the damaged ladies. And finally, the likable Brian Sgambati strikes a balance between silly and sweet with a song about loneliness in a northern town.

Some of contributing writer Anne Washburn and director Steve Cosson's choices are so punningly cheesy they make you wince and laugh at the same time. A pillow fight generates a blizzard of goose feathers; rubber chickens are employed to demonstrate tests for fowl-related aircraft interference: it scarcely needs to be said that the whole search for animal abuse turns into a wild goose chase. Still, considering its sense of good-will and the talent behind it, Canard is worth a gander.


Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Fowl Play

February 6 - 12, 2002

by Alexis Soloski

On a weekend jaunt to a rural town in upstate New York, a member of the Civilians — a new theater troupe of arch up-and-comers — made an appalling discovery. A resident informed her that while filming the feel-good '96 flick Fly Away Home, the Disney crew had imprinted local geese and then abandoned them to freeze. When injustice calls, what are actors to do? Pile into a station wagon; drive to Long Lake, New York; and create a Laramie Project-style piece about the frozen flock entitled Canard, Canard, Goose?.

But the Civilians get their flight plan royally feathered up. In the course of interviews they determine that Fly Away Home was shot in Ontario and that the geese were treated quite well. Long Lake had provided the backdrop for a French-Canadian nature documentary on geese and no birds were harmed by the making of that film either. (It's as if the members of the Tectonic Project had travelled to Laramie only to discover Matthew Shepard had been tortured in Nebraska and not so much tortured as fed delicious cake.) When your premise falls apart, what's a young company to do? Put on a show anyway.

The lively, insouciant piece that results chronicles the Civilians' fowl experience. Spirited musical numbers dot the action, which consists of re-creations of Civilians brainstorming sessions and interviews with predictably hickish upstaters. The local stereotyping is trite at best (offensive at worst), but there's real joy when the Civilians play themselves in all their misplaced, mistaken, vegetarian self-righteousness. Besides, it's not every company that can write bilingual comic songs (a shout-out to those French Canadians) or screw up in such a delightfully quackerjack fashion.