By Cath Hellmann
It’s not often that the playwright of a show I’m reviewing enthusiastically praises my cool new socks within moments of our first meeting. In all fairness, they are super-fun socks with corgis and bacon on them. What’s not to love?? And the outgoing playwright is LaurA! Force Scruggs, who I liked immediately.
Punk Grandpa is her sweet homage to her funny, irreverent, outrageous grandpa. He always encourages our young heroine to be herself, enjoy life, and it’s ok to be different. What a wonderfu message in our current strange times.
Playing the grandpa with relish is Colin Jones who breathes life into every scene. He yells from the car at random women that he’ll “pick them up later!” He flirts with all the bank tellers. He claims a black umbrella from the lost-and-found at the bank that’s not really his, but he’s lost other ones along his travels, so he figures it balances out. He tells his granddaughter that the FBI sends him messages through his hearing aids.
Punk Grandpa is hilariously inappropriate. He brags to the bible-thumpers at church that his son drives a fancy car, makes a lot of money...and is a pimp! The Churchgoers need some levity, as one congregant intones that, “The Liberals are not going to Heaven.”
Of course, Young Laura, portrayed by a sweet Sallie Anne Young, adores him. He protects Laura from her horrid older brother who calls her “Freak Show.” She was a very serious child, and her fun-loving grandpa helps lighten her spirits and see the whimsy in life. Laura imagines herself as a fairy, and our Narrator-Older Laura, played by Felisha McNeal, is dressed in a tutu with a wand. She’s been asked in her neighborhood by local children if she really IS a fairy.
Later in life, Punk Grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimers. It’s a sad ending for the vivacious man who meant so much to Young Laura. Knowing what he was really like makes his decline all the more tragic.
The production opens with a vintage slideshow of photos of the real-life Punk Grandpa. I wish we had been able to see the pictures more clearly. My young theater companion thought the images would have been more effective at the end of the play instead of at the forefront. Then the audience members have the opportunity to form their own opinions and impressions of Punk Grandpa from the show.
I loved the soundtrack of Big Band and Jazz music. Dancing and music play important roles in the show and in the spirit of Grandpa.
The players who round out the production have a lot of heart. The tiny storefront theater on Lincoln Avenue feels cozy like one is watching a performance in your friend’s living room. The publicity notes describe Punk Grandpa as the male version of one of my favorite characters, Auntie Mame. Remember, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Punk Grandpa would have approved.
Cath Hellmann is a teacher, mom, avid theater goer, and lover of silly socks. Her goal is to be the grandma who causes mischief.
"Punk Grandpa" is like a modern-day Auntie Mame, with genders reversed. It’s all about being yourself, not worrying about what others think, embracing life and humor and the value of the grandparent/grandchild relationship. The show takes place one magical weekend Laura spent with her grandpa at 5 3/4 years old, portrayed through storytelling, dance, music and vintage family movies and photos. Grandpa was the free-est, most inappropriate person Laura ever knew and this show demonstrates how he set Laura free to be herself through his humor and unpredictable, wild ways. It'll put hair on your chest.