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.