Thomas Burns Scully
‘Kapow-i GoGo’ is awesome. Here’s why…
Nerds rule the world, nowadays. Technology moguls fill the rich-list. Marvel controls the world box-office. ‘Game of Thrones’ is must-see viewing. Anonymous is possibly the most potent protest movement organized in history. The list goes on. Millennials are at the forefront of this. We grew up on superhero movies, social media, and Saturday morning cartoons. Now we are grown up, we are media consumers, we have disposable income and we are gradually being handed the creative reigns. What we are creating is reflecting where we came from. And I can’t think of a theatre show that distills the Millennial consciousness better than ‘Kapow-i GoGo’.
‘Kapow-i’ is a wild, episodic parody of a 90s Saturday morning anime show. It follows the story of a fourteen year old girl called Kapow-i GoGo (Madeleine Bundy) and her various quests to save the world. She is ineptly assisted by her thirty-two year-old brother (Michael Axelrod); an old, blind, alcoholic trainer (Hank Lin); and an assortment of other absurdly named stock characters pulled from the ranks of Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z and any other cartoon or video game you might care to mention. She faces off against her nemesis Tuxedo Gary (Evan Maltby), the inept Team Trouble (Matt Cox and Karsten Otto), the evil Xar Xar Zuu (Cristina Pitter) and hosts of other bad guys. The story is ridiculous, in keeping with the genre, and gets more improbable as it progresses. It’s quite a wonder to behold.
It is no exaggeration to say that ‘Kapow-i’ is a non-stop riot. I started laughing almost immediately, and didn’t stop. The definition of the term. Creator Matt Cox, and directors Kristin McCarthy Parker and Joel Soren have done something great here. Much of the humor is derived from pop-culture references and parodies of content that will be familiar to anyone who remembers owning a PSOne or a SNES. The ridiculously over-energized anime caricature characters are hilariously emblematic of their genre. Performance energy is dialed up to a billion, and the dialogue is rife with overblown, over-passionate sincerity textbook to the world of anime. The writing of the piece is impressive in its utter commitment to the subject matter. The funniest parodies are always borne of people who love what they are parodying, that understand not only the form, but the minutia of the genre. Cox clearly knows his cartoons inside and out, and that makes ‘Kapow-i’ a comedy that is inclusive, rather than dismissive. The audience is invited in to the world, and made to remember their childhoods fondly, but also to laugh at how ridiculous it all was. That makes ‘Kapow-i’ riotously funny, and completely uncynical. Which is something rather special.
Of course, a show’s nothing without its cast, and ‘Kapow-i’ has a damn fine ensemble here. Most are veterans of The Flea (where the show was first produced), and are clearly comfortable working with one another. Madeleine Bundy plays the titular lead, and carries the action of the play forward easily. She looks the part of anime superpower-princess with big eyes and electric blue hair, and wields an oversized sword as if she has been doing it her whole life. Michael Axelrod is marvelously endearing as Kapow-i’s under-achieving, over-enthusiastic older brother. He and rest of the cast tap in to the vein of anime high-camp with remarkable ease. Hank Lin is hilariously perverse as Master Masterwhiskies. Karsten Otto and Matt Cox as ‘Team Trouble’ are the ultimate Team Rocket tribute act. I could go on about each member of the cast for paragraphs, but this review needs to be a certain length. Suffice to say, between them, the cast hits every note, ticks every box, and works together with a seamless efficacy that makes you want to weep for jealousy.
And the cast needs to work together well. Supporting cast members have to move around the elaborate puppets, and cardboard cut-out props that complete the play’s look and feel. Joel Soren’s work as production designer perfectly treads the line between a design that is low-fi, and a design that looks bad and cheap. The props are low-rent, yes, but they are exactly what this cartoonish world needs. As are Josh Boerman’s costumes, which make every member of the cast look like a world-class cosplay of themselves. And so is Brian Hoes’ music, which is a high-energy mix of songs borrowed from video games and existing anime, as well as specifically created theme music. If they don’t release an album of the music for Kapow-i GoGo, I will be disappointed.
So much of this play’s brilliance comes from its commitment to the world. The premise of the show is that you, the audience, are binge-watching this Saturday morning cartoon. To that end, the play is divided in to nine thirty minute episodes, the show has a title sequence, the producers even go so far as to provide a complimentary cereal buffet bar in the lobby of The PIT, just to recreate the mood of Saturday morning cartoons. This does have its downsides. I was unable to stay for the full four-hour performance, due to my schedule. And I would guess that other people might have similar problems. That said, I will definitely be returning to the next showing (June 20th, save the date) to catch what I missed. I enjoyed the show that much. Dare I say, loved it.
I can’t think of single reason why you shouldn’t go and see ‘Kapow-i GoGo’. Okay, I lie. If you are unfamiliar with the world of Saturday morning cartoons, the play may seem quite alien to you. As condescending as it may seem, an older audience might not get it. But if you have any knowledge, no matter how cursory, of Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Mario, or Cowboy Bebop, this is a show you are going to love. It’s fun, funny, and it never lets up. It’s also theatre entertainment presented as we have started to consume all other entertainment: Conveniently episodic, with bathroom breaks, and food on demand. I might even go so far as to say that this is some kind of herald of how theatre is going to evolve. Serialized binge-theatre? It’s not the craziest idea anyone’s ever had. This is a play for a world that has seen ‘Scott Pilgrim’. It’s a play for the generation of big kids that we are. More than that though, it’s just a good play. Well written, hilarious and performed with the intensity of the epileptic seizure it might cause. I have no doubt you’re going to see this play in bigger places. Gym badges and extra lives all around.
Next Show: June 20th