Eight Is Great

What a happy time it is when Tamarie Cooper, the wacky redheaded diva reigning supreme at Infernal Bridegroom Productions, flies off to Hollywood. Of course it's not her leaving that makes us so giddy; it's the wild, laugh-till-your-face-hurts gift she's brought back from her fairy-tale trip to Tinsel Town. Tamalalia 8: Tamarie Makes It Big! is all about her fantasy flight to stardom and back, and Tamalalia fans could find this romp into Cooper's strange imagination to be her funniest yet.

This summer treat has become one of the hottest tickets in town since Cooper created her first Tamalalia eight years ago. In that time, the creamy-skinned, curly-haired comedian has moved her show to IBP and taken her fans from the outer reaches of her Freudian dreams to the plucky landscape of her impressively wicked love life. She's even brought her audiences "home" to nosh at her very own funky kitchen table.

This year, though, she travels far away, to the bright lights of La-La Land, where our lady of the bright red lips and round behind becomes a TV star, but not before suffering the rejection of the meanest Hollywood hipsters. After watching poor Tamarie's audition, one Simon Cowell wannabe even declares, "I will stare at the sun until my eyes burn out to forget what I've seen here today."

But it isn't long before her size 12 frame and her Jewishness get her noticed. A television show is born when producers pitch her as "the wacky, happy Jew from Texas." The screamingly madcap "My Big Fat Jewish Butt Theme Song" is reason enough to see the show. But TV being what it is, Tamarie will also have an ethnic best friend named Shawonda Ping Pong (Karina Pal-Montaño), a gay pal Bruce (Kyle Sturdivant) and Don (Noel Bowers), a boyfriend who is "always falling down!"

Everything's great until the head honchos conclude that Tamarie is actually too big and too wacky. She's sent to a freaky plastic surgeon and a Nazi trainer who offers her a big plate of "Nothing!" for dinner. In "Goodbye Food!" Cooper longs for everything she can't have, including that most loved food of all, bacon, with whom Cooper dances a hysterical pas de deux (Richard Jason Lyders-Gustafson plays the bacon). Her uphill climb turns into a downhill free fall when she discovers a new set of "friends," including Cocaine (the screechingly accurate Patrick Reynolds) and Cigarettes (Sturdivant).

After winding up in prison for her bad behavior, she finds herself in the middle of a slinky chick fight, then breaks out and runs back to Houston. This Dorothy-on-acid trip to Hollywood Oz is backed by a terrific band, headed by Anthony Barilla. The zany food costumes (especially Bacon's sizzling hat) were designed by Andrew Cloud and Cooper.

Taken as a whole, the show, conceived and directed by Cooper, is a fabulous burst of frenetic energy filled with the best of everything silly that Tamalalia has to offer.

An Ambitious Medea

You might say "hats off" to any theater company willing to mount Euripides's Medea, even if it is a "remixed" version, as dAdA Productions calls its latest theatrical venture into the classics. As changed as the story might be in the hands of director Ann James -- with its multimedia scenes on flanking dual big-screen TVs and its half-naked sex happening at center stage -- Medea is still one of the scariest female monsters ever created by Western civilization. The size and velocity of her rage feel impossibly difficult to enact.

Perhaps it is the enormity of Medea's passion that undermines James's miniature version of the Greek tragedy. It simply won't fit in the tiny space at Theatre LaB. To make matters worse, Livia Bornigia, who plays Medea in slinky long dresses, strangles the character's inferno of rage with irony. Every line is said through a naughty twinkling grin, as though she were talking about selling secrets to the National Enquirer rather than plotting her own children's deaths.

As Jason, the heel who abandons Medea for a wealthier woman, hunky Steve Scott is convincing playing the man who could drive a woman mad with obsessive love, but he's given little to do under James's underdeveloped direction. As a result, Scott (like most of the performers) is often left to stand around with his hands hanging at his sides like dead weight. It's difficult to watch such a potentially charismatic performer looking so utterly uncomfortable.

The remix in the title refers to the use of video and music. Taped scenes, such as Jason talking to Medea on his cell phone from his car, work well enough; but when James includes video images of Andrea Yates, the moment feels contrived. To lump Medea in with a woman suffering from postpartum psychosis seems exploitative at best.

Ambition is a great thing, and dAdA Productions is nothing if not ambitious. But even Medea's fellow Greek Oedipus Rex knows that too much ambition can blind us to our own limitations.

Tamalalia 8: Tamarie Makes It Big! Through August 30 at The Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443. $10-$17.

Medea: Remixed Through August 2 at Theatre LaB, 1706 Alamo, 713-528-0884. $10-$15.

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Lee Williams