Tamarie Cooper invites you to get in her head
Apollo 11 carried humankind to the surface of the moon.
Jules Verne took us to the center of the Earth.
Yet in braving that final and most perilous frontier, what could match the prospect of The Tamarie Cooper Show: Journey to the Center of My Brain (in 3-D!)
Yep, Cooper is back with another of her wacky original musicals, sparked by her own life, personality and skewed view of the world. A production of Catastrophic Theatre (of which Cooper is associate artistic director), it opens Thursday at Stages.
Cooper acquired a loyal cult with her 10 summers of Tamalalia shows for the late Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Though she discontinued the series, in the three years since, she has continued to devise an original show each summer — first for IBP, then for Catastrophic, the phoenix that arose from IBP’s ashes.
“I’m like Cher,” Cooper says, “I just keep having farewell tours.”
Her first post-Tamalalia offering was somewhat different, the cabaret-style 20 Love Songs. Since then, the shows have been pretty much Tamalalias by any other name — freewheeling, revue-style musicals based on her life.
“After 10 years I announced I would retire the series,” Cooper says, “because I didn’t want that pressure of having to create a crazy new show every summer. I didn’t want it to be mandatory. What if I couldn’t come up with anything one year? But let’s face it, I love doing them. And I’m lucky to have a team of great writers, composers, performers and musicians as collaborators to make them happen.
“But while the style and ideas are similar (to the earlier shows), my life is different. And different life experiences influence what I want to make art about. Put it this way, Lucille Ball in different stages of her life went from I Love Lucy to The Lucy Show to Here’s Lucy. She was still Lucy, but the situations changed.”
Thus, last summer’s show had former Montrose party girl Cooper settling down to marriage and a house in the Heights. When we left Our Heroine, she was even contemplating parenthood.
Does this year’s show pick up on that theme? Well, you might say so. …
“I’m seven months pregnant!” Cooper says. “So that pretty plainly has to be part of the show.”
However, Cooper did not want to make the whole show about Tamarie’s Delicate Condition.
“I didn’t want a whole evening of jokes about breast pumps,” she says. “I wanted it to be more universal.”
This year’s unifying premise — the journey into Tamarie’s head — stems from a question frequently asked by her fans.
“Through the years, people often have asked ‘How did you come up with that idea?’ I always say ‘That’s what was in my head.’ So I thought ‘Why not a whole show revealing what’s in there?’ There are some recognizable scientific aspects we explore. It’s eighth-grade science. In a larger way, veering around my head lets us get into psychological elements, the different facets of personality, ego, id. …”
So what’s a for-instance of a number sparked by this year’s theme?
“I was riffing on my idea of love,” Cooper says, “where our notions of the Perfect Mate come from. Which led to my memory that, as a child, one of my first crushes was on Gilligan (Bob Denver of TV’s infamous Gilligan’s Island.) So we do a hip-hop Sex Me Up, Gilligan number.”
With Cooper’s D-Day (for delivery) scant weeks away, she is being a little more cautious directing her onstage action this year.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m still out there doing crazy stuff. I just make sure I get a breather when I need it, so I don’t get overheated.”
But that “little cute what-is-it” (a girl, actually) may be the factor that finally disrupts Cooper’s tradition of an annual summer show.
“I don’t think I’ll be creating a new show next summer,” she says, “because I expect to be preoccupied with a little person. I’ll remain involved with Catastrophic, but I’ll be cutting back, doing fewer things for the next few years, at least.”
Looks like Catastrophic artistic director Jason Nodler may have to find a new, fun, summer cash cow for the company. Hey, how about an Ionesco Festival?