Tamarie Cooper dishes up domestic goodness
“If only exercising could be like a beautiful ballet!” Tamarie Cooper wishes midway through her new show, yearning for a way to make her weight-loss regimen more enticing.
Right on cue, tutu-clad ballerinas (and a few ballerinos) prance on, brandishing dumbbells, jump ropes and other healthful paraphernalia to sweep Cooper into a gala exercise ballet set to The Waltz of the Flowers.
By the time three chunky devils clad in red capes and long johns skulk in to tempt Cooper back to her couch-potato ways with trays of pastries and a TV Guide (here, the music switches to the famous theme from Swan Lake), you may be put in mind of the Dance of the Hours sequence from Fantasia.
Devised with ingenuity and performed with gusto, the sequence achieves a blissful goofiness — especially as Exercise Angels and Temptation Devils play tug-of-war with the hapless Cooper, yanking her on and off her exercise bike.
The Tamarie Cooper Show boasts several comparably funny highlights that make the evening worth its weight in grins, chuckles and outright guffaws.
A gifted performer, writer and director-choreographer, Cooper developed a cult following with her Tamalalia series of wacky autobiographical musicals at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Now that IBP is gone and most of its castaways have climbed aboard with Catastrophic Theatre, Catastrophic is producing Cooper’s first post-IBP effort at Stages Repertory Theatre.
Unsurprisingly, it plays like Daughter of Tamalalia, or maybe Tamalalia 11 (there were 10 at IBP). As in her IBP series, a loose theme connects the comedy scenes and musical numbers, purportedly based on her life, though exaggerated (one hopes) for comic effect.
After the usual high-energy opening number, with the cast bopping about like the Hullabaloo dancers while greeting our heroine with Hey, Tamarie!, Cooper’s introductory monologue explains the situation. She’s married and moved from Montrose to the suburbs. “Gone are my days as a single gal, the endless cocktail parties and regrettable hookups, the nights perched on a barstool looking for love.” She’s exercising now and planting herb gardens.
As Cooper’s real-life husband and their dog are not appearing, Cooper calls upon company members Kyle Sturdivant and Walt Zipprian to play those roles — a situation that supplies much of the show’s humor.
Sturdivant, the company’s answer to Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly, has a gay way with a sharp retort, a droll knack for seeming reluctantly obliging yet dangerously unstable. He can turn on a dime from chummy to snippy.
Zipprian finds the humor in performing every task, including manipulating his cute dog puppet, with a surly and disapproving air. He casts a baleful eye most amusingly.
Jennifer Mathieu scores as Cooper’s sitcom-style neighbor and confidante, confessing that though she, too, has supposedly reformed: “I still get wasted, only now I do it at home watching Lifetime for women.”
The preoccupations of Cooper’s new domesticity cue the musical numbers.
Target Is Our Brand New Drug — well, that shopaholic anthem speaks for itself. TV Zombie Slaves casts Cary Winscott as the sinister TV enslaving Cooper and Sturdivant, numbed by an endless round of channel-surfing (“Law and Order Marathon/click/Head On, apply directly to your forehead/click.”)
Little wonder exercise becomes Cooper’s next obsession. Cue the ballet.
She then decides that motherhood is the answer to life’s discontents, prompting dueling fantasies. The first shows only loving pairs serenading their babies. But after consulting a terrifying fertility doctor (hilarious Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers), Cooper expresses her fears of endless rounds of diaper-changing and breast-feeding with a nightmare vision in which her “litter” of 15 babies turns on her in Angry Babies. It’s another of the show’s absurd high points.
For those who enjoyed her IBP series, I’d say the new show would rate among the better ones, if not equal to the very best. The script has its inconsistencies and familiar stretches. The original music, mostly by Winscott, Kevin Blessington or Anthony Barilla, is usually peppy and propulsive. I do wish Cooper and the crew had gone back to the drawing board on the lyrics. While a few are mildly amusing, I know they can write sharper stuff. It’s usually the situations and performances that get the laughs, rather than the actual lyrics.
As always, Cooper makes a merry mistress of ceremonies, spark plug for the party. Besides writing (with input from cast members), she has directed briskly and supplied the lively, intentionally referential, usually funny choreography.
Also as in past shows, Cooper is surrounded by a talented team who cut-up, wisecrack, don funny costumes and give high-energy performances of the zany dance numbers. The band, led by John Duboise, is likewise spirited.
Cooper’s latest outing is mostly funny — or funny enough, most of the time — and she remains an appealing comic presence.