Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Dusty and the Big Bad World Adds Levity to the Culture Wars

By Louisa Hufstader, MV Times

Kay Seiman stars as Lizzie, along with Nina Moore.MJ Bruder Munafo

Eleven-year-old Lizzie Goldberg-Jones is a big fan of watching SpongeBob. She’s also a good kid. So because her little brother Petey loves watching Dusty, a giant, purple, animated dustball that airs on public television, she cheerfully enters a contest to have her family featured on Dusty’s award-winning television program.

“TV matters. It matters to everyone,” Lizzie says in her video entry, which wins the prize.

But when Lizzie and Petey turn out to have two proud, married daddies, Dusty and his creators find themselves in hot water with the White House, where the newly-appointed President’s Special Counsel on Children and Child Welfare wants to yank the program’s federal funding and stop the episode from airing.

At the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse through July 29, Cusi Cram’s political comedy Dusty and the Big Bad World is a fast-paced and funny take on the culture wars of the last Republican administration, sparing neither the right nor the left as both sides struggle over Dusty’s survival.

Kevin Cirone and Zada Clarke. — MJ Bruder Munafo

Entering to the strains of Hail to the Chief, Charlotte Booker plays incoming special counsel Marianne, so in love with her new job that she rapturously sniffs a box of pencils as she plans to “make public television more public” by defunding shows like Dusty that give air time to gay families.

Ms. Booker, who originated the role in its 2008 world premiere, plays Marianne with vigor and self-confidence.

“The people have spoken again, and here we are,” she trills to her assistant Karen, played with hilarious awkwardness by Zada Clarke.

Wobbling anxiously in her office pumps and trying not to look at the large portrait of George W. Bush on the wall, Karen is wary of her new boss. Still, deeply grateful to have any kind of job, she gradually allows Marianne to befriend her. But when she gets wind of Marianne’s intention to give Dusty the sack, Karen rebels and starts digging into her boss’s past, sharing the dirt Deep Throat-style with Dusty’s writer Nathan (Kevin Cirone), who’s already up to his eyeballs in paranoia.

Caught between the panicking Nathan and threats from the head of the Public Broadcasting System — who happens to be a sorority sister of Marianne’s — is Dusty’s producer Jessica, powerfully played by Victoria Adams-Zischke.

At first, unable to believe that a show with seven Emmys and a Peabody could be canceled over a single episode, Jessica comes to realize that “there is nothing you do with great love that won’t at some point punch you in the stomach.”

Charlotte Booker (left) originated the role of Marianne in 2008 production. — MJ Bruder Munafo

 

And then there’s young Lizzie, arguably the most level-headed of the lot, who joins forces with Nathan to invade Marianne’s office and demand that Dusty be spared.

“I have no idea how they got in here,” Karen gasps to her boss. “One of my dads founded ACT UP, that’s how,” Lizzie retorts.

But while Dusty’s defenders think they have Marianne cornered, she’s still got some tricks in her political playbook.

Playhouse artistic and executive director MJ Bruder Munafo directs the excellent cast, which includes two local actors sharing the role of Lizzie. Nina Moore and Kaya Seiman, both of Oak Bluffs, are alternating performances in what Ms. Bruder Munafo said is a common practice with child actors on Broadway, but a first for a playhouse production.

Lisa Pegnato’s elegantly simple set encapsulates the two worlds that clash in Ms. Cram’s play. To the audience’s left are the offices where Jessica and Nathan labor in adjoining cubicles at WGBH in Boston. On the right — of course — is Marianne’s office with its view of the Capitol. Center stage is the Union Station coffee shop where Karen and Nathan plot to bring the special counsel down.

Island musician and educator Brian Weiland wrote the Dusty theme song, with words by Ms. Bruder Munafo. The play has two acts with a 15-minute intermission and a total running time of about two hours. The show continues through July 29.

For tickets and information, visit mvplayhouse.org.

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