Tamarie at Target
The Tamarie Cooper Show has arrived at Stages Repertory Theatre, and what a tangy tonic it is. It helps to know a little bit about the history before seeing the show; otherwise, you're likely to feel a bit like you're sitting at a party full of very funny people — none of whom you know. Which isn't to say you won't laugh without getting all the inside jokes.
Presented by the Catastrophic Theatre, The Tamarie Cooper Show is really just a new name for another installment of Cooper's lively Tamalalia series (like Catastrophic is really just a new name for departed theater company Infernal Bridegroom Productions). The long-running series started in the '90s and became an annual event. Each year Cooper and her friends created an original musical that caught the audience up on Cooper's life since the previous summer — the theatrical version of a mass letter or a blog.
This year, Cooper has gotten married (she flashes the slides to prove it), and she starts the show off full of gleaming good cheer. Her real husband doesn't appear in the musical; instead, the "talented furniture-maker" is played by Kyle Sturdivant. Much fun is made of the fact that Sturdivant, a longtime company member, is gay and not at all comfortable holding a hammer, the prop intended to make him more butch. And though the joke is a bit creaky in 2008, Sturdivant makes an excellent clown who stares wide-eyed at the foreign object in his hand. Cooper's new family also includes a Jack Russell Terrier played by Walt Zipprian, who is very funny as the insulted actor, lowering himself to bark like a dog.
The songs that follow take us through Cooper's newly domesticated life. She's abandoned her nights of wine and roses for the more ordinary pleasures of shopping at Target, which she sings about in "Target Is Our Brand New Drug." The stage fills up with a dancing cast who leap about in red shirts and khaki pants. She also now likes TV, too much. "TV Zombie Slaves" finds Cooper and hubby glued to the tube. Shows like Dancing with the Stars come swirling by (Steven Hawking is the featured dancer). Meanwhile, Cooper is losing her soul.
When she snaps out of it, she realizes she's spent way too much time sitting on her fanny, eating crap — she tells us that she actually stepped on the scale last year and was horrified to find that she weighed 200 pounds. There are lots of jokes about her weight and the size of her rear, and these were among the few missteps in the show. Cooper has poked fun at her size throughout the years, but the constant one-liners about her bottom in this production bordered on self-loathing. And the truth is that Cooper, who is 37, remains one of Houston's loveliest performers, in part because of, not in spite of, her shape.
That said, her "Exercise Ballet" is one of the best numbers in this musical. Cooper argues that she doesn't like to exercise because it's not as much fun as ballet class when she was a kid. What follows is a cast dressed in sweatpants and tutus fighting over Cooper's exercise soul with three round devils who tempt her with Little Debbie snack cakes and an enormous La-Z-Boy. The number is hysterical.
Less successful is "What's a Mom to Do" about Cooper's struggle over whether to be a working mother or a stay-at-home mom. In the first place, the fact that so few women in the States can actually afford to be stay-at-home moms makes the conflict sound like pampered whining. Add in the fact that Cooper still hasn't decided whether or not she wants children, and the song just feels like an afterthought.
But the good outweighs the not-so-great here. Jodi Bobrovsky's TV-inspired set design is yummy and glamorous. The cast, including Jennifer Mathieu, Karen Schlag, Karina Pal Moñtano-Bowers and Cary Winscott, seem to be having the time of their lives. And Cooper is back to doing what she does best.