BWW Review: Fantastic Z's BAD PANDA Examines Alternative Families
In this ever-changing society of ours it's nice to see shows that take a look at different kinds of love and families. Such is the case with Megan Gogerty's "Bad Panda" currently being offered from Fantastic Z Theatre. And while at times the script felt a bit heavy handed and the production lacked some levels, the show as a whole is a sweet and touching look at another way to look at the issue of what truly makes a family.
"Bad Panda" takes a look at the new residents of the local zoo, two pandas named Gwo Gwo and Marion (Richard Sean Glen and Helen Martin). The two of them have been taken out of the wild and placed in the zoo in order for them to mate and keep the species from going extinct. But Gwo Gwo doesn't seem to have much interest in the actual act of mating. He's fine with looking at taking care of their potential baby but when Marion Presents herself, Gwo Gwo finds something else to do. Enter Chester (Michael Ryan Blackwood), a crocodile with issues of his own and when things spark between Gwo Gwo and Chester, Marion has no choice but to leave and take these baby matters into her own hands.
Director Kate Huisentruit keeps the back and forth at a good pace in this bizarre love triangle but could have done something to keep the actors from being so one note. Aside from that thought she's managed a lively and engaging tone in the piece and has assembled a wonderful cast and crew especially Caitlin McCown who's put together a brightly fantastic zoo set complete with a pond and tons of levels to play on in a limited space.
The actors are adorable in their roles and quite engaging but as I said could have used more levels, especially Glen and Martin who are playing very young pandas so imbue the roles with childlike qualities. Because of this we get a lot of bright naiveté and volume and there's so much more to youth than just that. But that minor qualm aside they have excellent chemistry and presence and have some wonderful comedic turns, in particular Glen who turns in some delightful asides and double takes with excellent timing. Blackwood manages the most levels in the piece and has a great arc for his character as he goes from apex predator to vulnerable companion and manages to make a crocodile cuddly.
It's a fun little script (only about 90 minutes) with a poignant message if you care to see it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Fantastic Z's "Bad Panda" an affected YAY-. But then how can you go wrong with animals frolicking around stage adorably trying to figure out love and companionship?
"Bad Panda" from Fantastic Z Theatre performs at Theatre Off Jackson through April 8th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.fantasticz.org.