A carrier pigeon named Martha Washington (Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth) spends 1914 trying to create a safe space for pigeons in the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Witch-burning minister Cotton Mather (Glenn Aucoin) tells Martha she is the last of her kind (carrier pigeons, he says, are very tasty). This doomsday news doesn't go over well with Martha, but she agrees to Cotton's request to poop on him in The Shadowbox Theater's production of the new show An Outopia for Pigeons.
As explained in the show, an outopia is a non-place, and since people can't locate a "non-place," Martha believes an outopia will help save her fellow birds. Carrier pigeons possess the ability to see bits of the future — as video projected onto a screen — and Martha sees French philosophy (hence, the "non-place" idea of philosopher Michel Foucault). A fried chicken-eating gourmand (Stacy Smith) hangs out with Martha and tries to destroy the outopia's structure.
The premise might sound confusing, but it works. Local playwright Justin Maxwell's absurdist comedy lobs jokes and social critique at a headwhippingly fast pace. Once you're aboard, the ride is pretty wild and ultimately satisfying.
Sperm whale Charles Bronson stops by the fledgling outopia on his way to stab the limerick-loving Nantucketers that killed off his pod. Bronson (James Patrick) and Cotton develop a — we'll say — "friendship," and Aucoin and Patrick use the characters' weirdness to provide some of the show's funniest moments.
The show's humor can be super-referential and meta — turning familiar joke scenarios on their heads. Cotton spends a good deal of time trying to unsuccessfully place his pilgrim hat on a mantle. No matter how hard Cotton concentrates, the hat keeps falling. The description of the scene doesn't sound that funny, but the way Aucoin plays Cotton — with bug eyes and facial tics — is great. I could watch Cotton drop his hat all day.
The dialogue is quick, and the four actors are fun to watch. As the gourmand, Smith is devious but the audience doesn't always hate her. Hollingsworth gives Martha, ostensibly the main character, a lot of heart and head bobs, quickly changing from hilarious to hysterical.
Racy content abounds. In one scene the gourmand gives Cotton a blow job behind a sheet — we see the shadow of the act. As with most of the sexy scenarios in Outopia, the act is used as a comedic device — the religious Cotton cries during the BJ.
Outopia pushes some boundaries structurally and comically. The writing, acting and production are sharp, and it's a great example of local talent.