BWW Review: THE TAMARIE COOPER SHOW FIELD TRIP! is a busolad of fun at Catastrophic Theatre
Catastrophic Theatre spends all year producing searing dramas and literary works that challenge what theater means. Then every summer, they unleash Tamarie Cooper to make us all giggle until we pee in our seats a little. The Tamarie Cooper Show is a Houston institution that has been running since sometime in the '90s when apparently Tamarie cooked dinner for the audience or loaded them up on a bus to hit 610 with no destination in mind. Health codes and liability laws prevent any of that from ever happening again, but each year we get to witness Tamarie as she has a mini-nervous breakdown surrounded by dancing cockroaches. This year's FIELD TRIP continues the tradition and delivers exactly what we expect... insane fun set to music.
This iteration of the Tamarie Cooper Show explores the leading lady's emotional baggage, battle against minor depression, and all of the discarded bad ideas that the troop has come up with when they were in line at 4am at Taco Bell. In other words, business as usual for Tamarie and her cast of usual suspects. What is amazing is how universal the trauma of a middle aged actress can be, and how she can capture the zeitgeist of what is happening across the country as we all struggle with the ennui that today's political and media climate produces. The modern world sucks, and here is Cooper to rally the cry in line at your local Starbucks!
Tamarie is the author, producer, director, choreographer, co-costume mistress, and center of attention throughout the entire evening. I even have a conspiracy theory the light board is hidden somewhere in her costume and she might even be running that! It's her name above the title and on the marquee, and she alone carries or breaks the show (with a nod to co-writer Patrick Reynolds). But as you can imagine, she's a charmer and after all these years knows a thing or two about how to make this clock tick. She sings, she chants, she tap dances, and urban legend states even produces urine samples on cue. She is as amazing as she ever has been. It is a sheer joy to watch her, and she is the reason to see this special piece of comic genius.
But don't think Miss Tamarie Cooper is alone up there. Over the years a company of Houston actors have sprung up around this titan of parody, and they are just as skilled as their cool mistress at bringing in the funny. John Dunn shows off his spot on impersonations of hair role models Joel Osteen then Frederich Nietzsche, and gives a nuanced layered performance as Richard Nixon trapped in the body of a crawfish. Xzavien Hollins portrays the pain of a man whose genitals are misplaced through cruel genetic manipulation. Bryan Kaplun provides pathos as Sesame Street's Ernie hooked on making meth, and commits fullyto a degrading yet provocative topless scene in a bathroom. Jayden Key nails his character of a killer carb covered in icing. Angela Pinina triumphs as a popular appetizer available at the Pappas seafood chain. Abraham Zeus Zapata comes through clearly as vodka. Alli Villines captures narcissism so well that I suspect she is not acting. Sara Jo Dunstan is cute as heck. And Brittny Bush pretty much plays two roles she was born to portray - Aquaman and Oprah.
But I would hardly be a theatre critic if I didn't have one or two favorites in the mix! Walt Zipprian comes back for his 11th performance in a Tamarie show as himself and also as a nightmare inducing vision of Hollywood hellspawn Gwyneth Paltrow. He has finally topped his award winning run as Ann Coulter. And I was concerned that the program did not list Kyle Sturdivant as part of the ensemble, but never fear. Through the miracle of modern technology he is indeed present in the production which would have been lost without his suave charismatic leading man contributions.
At the end of the day FIELD TRIP simply continues the legacy of what has become the Tamarie Cooper Show franchise. If you've seen it before, you'll be back. If you have never seen it, then this is as good a time as any to get on the bus. The houses are almost always packed, so definitely reserve your tickets ahead. You will have a great time escaping the heat and celebrating one of Houston's theatre icons. Catch this lightness quick, because soon enough the Catastrophic Theatre will be back to searing our psyche with productions such as Sam Shepard plays.
Anthony Rathbun / CATASTROPHIC Theater