BWW Reviews: BAD PANDA Goes Beyond Black and White at Iron Crow
As the last two pandas on earth, Gwo Gwo and Marion intrinsically know their task is to repopulate their species, but when mating season rolls around, they encounter a small hitch: Chester the crocodile has got his eyes on Gwo Gwo, who-despite all his practicing-can't seem to get a hang of baby-panda creation and finds himself increasingly distracted by that sly and charming croc.
And so ensues pure panda-monium (last time, I promise).
As a delightful, 80-minute romp in the dirty laundry of gender roles and responsibilities, identity politics and the pressures involved in ensuring the survival of one's species, Iron Crow Theatre Co.'s Bad Panda offers nonstop hilarity and sweet introspection as the unlikely threesome puts its own spin on the definition of family.
Through a series of relatively brief scenes, each titled (e.g. "Marion prepares; Gwo Gwo experiments") via projection on the backdrop, the characters' roles become quickly evident. Marion (portrayed by an adorably emphatic Katie O. Solomon) clearly wears the black-and-white pants in the pandas' relationship, instructing Gwo Gwo on how their mating season will play out, down to the gender of their not-yet-conceived baby.
Gwo Gwo (David Brasington, sweetly demure and convincingly naïve) cooperates more out of a sense of obligation than of true interest, although he tries to convince himself otherwise. And then along comes Chester (Adam Cooley in all his reptilian glory), coy and charismatic, asserting himself as an "apex predator, baby; they tremble when I'm around." The beauty, of course, is that for all his puffed-up alpha-male pretenses, Chester wears his heart on his scales, er, sleeve.
As the dynamics of the animal trio's relationships shift and develop, so does the audience's understanding of how these three came to be thrown together. And when baby Lulu eventually comes along, she serves to reveal the jealousy, frustration and unconditional love and dedication involved in all growing families, including highly nontraditional panda-crocodile ones.
Playwright Megan Gogerty's smart, witty script and dedicated character development are to be lauded, as is the actors' ability truly to embody their animals' spirits. Their carful attention to movement and posture-the pandas roly-poly and heavy, the crocodile sinuous and lithe-imbues the production, which relies heavily on physical interaction, with a sense of realism that serves to draw in the audience.
Also of note is the set, which-in it stripped-down simplicity-focuses attention on the acting while providing the necessary context for the story. Artificial turf and bouncy exercise balls contribute to the playful feel of the actors' movements as they sit, lie, roll, crawl, bounce and cuddle on and around the materials, but they never require set changes that would slow the pace of the production or interrupt the flow of the action.
This world premiere of Bad Panda is beautifully executed by Iron Crow and pure pleasure for the audience as it's invited along on a joyous jaunt through the (zoological) park.
Bad Panda runs Wednesday-Sunday through Oct. 27 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. in Baltimore. Iron Crow Theatre Co.'s next production, Queer Bathroom Monologues, is Nov. 12 at Towson University's Mainstage Thatre at the Center for the Arts. For more information, visit www.ironcrowtheatre.com.
Photos © Katie Ellen Simmons-Barth, courtesy of Iron Crow Theatre Co.