The American Scream

One of the few really cool things about summer in Houston is that the searing heat brings with it yet another installment of Infernal Bridegroom Productions' Tamalalia series. This frothy cocktail of song, dance and silliness springs eternal from the obviously strange musings in writer/director/choreographer/actor Tamarie Cooper's head. The copper-headed beauty with the lush red lips and even lusher hips started her series in 1996. Back then, when Tamalalia was just a babe of an idea, it ran only two nights and was produced at the un-air-conditioned but oh-so-hip Orange Show. Fans sweltered through the standing-room-only event, curious to see just what this popular IBP performer had conceived. Every year since, a brand-new, bigger, longer and -- ahem -- slicker version of the funky show has returned to our sweltering city, and the crowds keep on coming. The conditioned air at Stages Repertory Theatre notwithstanding, it's easy to figure out why everyone is so enamored with Cooper's charming productions. Never has self-indulgence looked so innocent -- or so much fun.

Tamalalia 2000, like every previous edition, is all about Cooper. Her dreams, her fears, her Rubenesque ass, her penchant for quirky second-hand-store fashion, her love of bacon, her girlhood crush on Duran Duran and even her honest-to-goodness, real-life high school history teacher end up on designer Kirk Markley's swirling, painted stage. Mishmashed into an easy, almost sitcom-style story, these disparate images somehow make absolute sense when woven into a kooky narrative by Cooper and Andy Nelson.

The story begins where last year's Tamalalia 4 left off. Having married Ranger Andy (Nelson), the funky girl from Montrose has moved to The Woodlands in hopes of grabbing on to the American dream of suburban nirvana. It's now one year later, and the first thing we see is a long video of our inner-city heroine slogging through a mire of mindless middle-class bullshit. Wearing an utterly uncool, crisply ironed blue jean dress, she drives her teal-colored Honda station wagon back and forth to the grocery, makes dinner for her hubby and looks numbed to the marrow.

When Cooper and Nelson finally appear in the flesh, he's in his La-Z-Boy, and she's in her oven mitts. The only thing keeping our expatriates of the Inner Loop "exceedingly happy" are pills and booze. Out trot tap-dancing bottles of Scotch whisky and antidepressants, which sing a giddy little ditty called "Happiness in a Bottle." Such are the predictably goofy songs of Tamalalia, written with a sort of childlike irreverence by Anthony Barilla, Chris Bakos and Greg Stanley.

Tamarie, of course, has to get out of this Woodlands wasteland and onto her perennial Tamalalia-style journey of self-discovery. But how? It's perhaps not too revealing to say her escape involves a Sit 'n Spin children's toy, a thin man dressed in black, and a bright red apple. Before long she finds herself thrown into the distant past, wandering among cavemen who sing "Uh Chukka Lukka Mukka Sukka Wukka," a song that includes such astute observations as "big bird, huge turd."

Dumb? Yes. Funny? Absolutely hysterical.

So is the choreography. Barefoot, fur-clad men and women stomp and spin in a whirling dervish of infectious, prehistoric sexual energy. In fact, Cooper, who began her performing career as a dancer, has filled this show with playful parodies of movement, all fantastic fun to watch. One of the best is a wicked homage to the "bad MTV choreography" she loved from her teenage days in the '80s. The bad-boy strut of Michael Jackson, the trampy girlish wiggle of early Madonna, the icy, slicked-back cool of Simon LeBon, all leap from of her memory and onto the stage in a series of dead-on impersonations that send the audience into huge guffaws of recognition.

"The Villain Song," in which Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan and members of the Utah Jazz sit down for group therapy, is also a riot. Kyle Sturdivant's maniacally infantile Hitler steals the scene. His German is reduced to a single phrase, "Inka blinka," which he shouts over and over as he fights with Stalin. After being introduced to the daytime TV goddess of goodwill, Oprah Winfrey, the inspired despots sing a round of "Oprah loves us, yes we know. We all love the Oprah show. Yes, Oprah loves me. The TV tells me so."

Through all these moments Cooper maintains an angst-ridden search for herself, wondering who she should be and what should come of her on-the-rocks marriage to Ranger Andy, who appears to Tamarie throughout her time-warped adventure in the shape of a caveman, Stalin and a rock star. You'll have to see this screech of pumped-up energy to find out what becomes of the ruby-lipped, downtown girl Houstonians have come to love. Suffice it to say, the future shines bright, and next year's show promises to be a Freon-filled gas.

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Lee Williams