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October 16, 2012

Review: Iron Crow Theatre premieres Megan Gogerty's 'Bad Panda'

The phrase "all aboard" gets an amusing twist in "Bad Panda," the Megan Gogerty play receiving its premiere from Iron Crow Theatre. Then again, everything gets a twist in this tale of sexual awakening, procreation and preservation.

Set in a private animal reserve, run by unseen wardens ("the royal they"), the plot concerns the last two pandas on earth and their attempt to mate, an attempt hampered ever so slightly by a decidedly offbeat case of opposites attracting -- the male panda becomes infatuated with a male crocodile.

Any anthropomorphizing can be dangerous, prone to get too cutesy or gimmicky or both.

Gogerty doesn't entirely avoid those traps, but she ...

uses the animal kingdom device cleverly to address issues of family and sexual orientation, along with the environment and scientific engineering. And she wraps all of it around a simmering fear of the unknown, the untried, the unspoken.

If there aren't quite enough surprises along the way, moments that push through the sitcom outer layer to reach some deeper place, there are some nicely poetic moments.

Here's Gwo Gwo, the male panda, telling Chester the crocodile about the day everything went bad for pandas: "The sky turned peculiar. And there was wind. Like the whole sky wanted to be someplace else."

Mostly, though, there's a droll touch, which keeps things spinning in entertaining fashion (Chester: You pandas. You don’t kid around. Gwo Gwo: We’re endangered. We don’t have time).

The work, developed over the past few years by the now Baltimore-based Generous Company's WordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory, is well served by the Iron Crow staging and makes a good fit at Theatre Project. Director/designer Joseph Ritsch has created an effective space for the action and has it moving fleetly. The cast, wryly costumed by Rebecca Eastman, does a persuasive job.

David Brasington gives a delectable performance as Gwo Gwo, who just can't work up much enthusiasm for all that mating stuff -- the ritual, yes, just not the ultimate act. The actor easily brings out Gwo Gwo's sweetly naive nature, and also reveals a flair for deadpan, which helps generate some of the best laughs in the show.

Adam Cooley's Chester, the "apex predator," is a fun fellow, especially when slipping into full hey-girlfriend-snap-snap mode. Katie O. Solomon brings an effective spark to the role of Marion, the would-be mama, and she makes imitation panda moves with aplomb.

In the end, the play feels rather slight, but it certainly sheds an intriguing new light on the concept of "unnatural acts."

"Bad Panda" runs through Oct. 27 at Theatre Project.

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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