Mina Badie is the most authentic pregnant woman who isn’t pregnant that I’ve ever seen. She slouches on the sofa, belly in air, she rises sideways, clutching the arm of the sofa, and she waddles around her spectacularly tacky apartment bracketing her belly in earphones to soothe the baby with music. She calls him “the bump.”
Mina and the baby are the focus of “Me, As A Penguin,” now being given its American premiere at the Lost Studio on LaBrea. But the production is very nearly stolen by Brendan Hunt, who plays her eccentric brother, Stitch. He’s called Stitch because he’s spent his years working in his mother’s wool shop, helping elderly British ladies with their knitting. And he knits throughout the play, whenever he’s frazzled, and eventually knits something that brings a huge laugh from the audience.
Meanwhile Mina, as Liz, argues with her husband Mark (Craig Robert Young) about “when is your brother going to leave already?” She strikes a bargain with Mark: when Stitch leaves, so will the sofa. She wants a new settee from Ikea. He considers their current overstuffed monstrosity “a loyal piece of furniture” and clings to it as to a security blanket.
Meanwhile, Stitch has bonded with a baby penguin at the local zoo. He identifies with it, and in a sensitive and moving monologue describes how the baby, an “outsider,” hangs back from the group of his elders and seems to be totally ignored at feeding-time.
To complicate matters even more, Stitch, who is gay, has a crush on the penguin-keeper, Dave, (James Donovan) with whom he had a not-memorable one-night stand. When Dave shows up at Liz and Mark’s apartment dressed in a penguin suit, triggering Stitch’s humiliation and dismay, instead of sympathizing, he points out coldly that “nobody ever died of a joke!”
All the actors are excellent, thanks to the impeccable direction of veteran director/actor/writer John Pleshette, but they could stand having a better and more consistent grip on their British accents. The wonderfully dreadful set (busy green wallpaper, maroon patterned sofa, etc.) is also the work of John Pleshette, with lighting design by Phil Galler, sound design by Joseph Slawinski, and costumes by Esther Rydell.
“Me, As A Penguin” is a sweet play, simple and straightforward, with lots of laughs and maybe a brief tear or two. Tom Wells, who studied English at Oxford, wrote this play when he was 23. It opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2009 and subsequently toured the UK. Since then he has written half a dozen more, with names like “Notes For First Time Astronauts,” “Yeti,” and “The Light That Never Goes Out.” His plays have been produced in London and elsewhere in England, and he is currently Associate Playwright at the Bush Theatre and writes under commission from that theater and three other regional theaters. To envision him as Alan Ayckbourn’s successor would not be too much of a stretch.
“Me, As A Penguin” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through March 6 at The Lost Studio, 130 S. LaBrea Ave. (between First and Second streets) in Los Angeles. Call (323) 960-7721 for reservations.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.