The World’s Largest Rodent
Victory Theatre Center
“Sometimes,” playwright Don Zolidis states in his desperately dark comedic free-for-all The World’s Largest Rodent, “you just have to jump off the ledge of sanity and see if there aren’t some adjustments to be made.” Luckily for LA theatregoers, Zolidis and the Victory Theatre Center’s co-artistic director Tom Ormeny linked hands like Thelma and Louise and took just such a daring plunge, right off that precarious precipice of what is commercially assured to attract those notoriously fickle audiences in our culturally desolate town. Bringing the playwright’s woebegone and indefatigably horny 13-year-old anti-hero Billy and the giant drunken capybara who lives under his bed to the stage of the “Big” Victory with the world premiere of The World’s Largest Rodent was a risk—one that’s paid off bigtime.
The collaboration between Zolidis and Ormeny as the play’s director is a match made in theatrical heaven; if anyone understands, celebrates, and accentuates this writer’s blessedly skewed sense of humor, it’s definitely Ormeny. Not only are the production values appropriately off-center here as well, especially Lauren Tyler’s wonderfully silly costuming, often resembling a revival of Bye Bye Birdie designed on acid, and the versatile set by Brett A. Snodgrass, which appears to feature graffiti Andy Warhol himself rose from the grave to create, the Victory’s cast could not be better—or more willing to collectively accept whatever challenges Zolidis and Ormeny have thrown at them.
As Billy, the endearingly slack-jawed Andy Gobienko, at the ripe old age of 17, makes an auspicious LA stage debut sure to win hearts and hopefully attract an industry desperately in need of a kid with such obvious natural comedic chops. As his wisecracking giant pet rodent and several other characters in the play, Kelly Van Kirk proves again and again to be Gobienko’s perfect foil no matter which character he assays, the delectably fresh pair of performers emerging to become rather like a intergenerational contemporary version of Laurel and Hardy.
Kim McKean is hilarious as Billy’s slutty sister Meg and Vincent Giovanni steals his every scene as her Latin boyfriend Reynaldo, a delightfully slimy slimeball whose polyester pants are exaggeratedly padded in just the right place (one would assume that’s padding). Giovanni is awarded some of the play’s best lines (“You’re sweet, lik’a the guava fruit,” he tells the lovestruck Meg in his best Ricardo Montalban voice, “but your mind ees not made for the theenking”). One scene as Giovanni tries to instruct the inexperienced Gobienko in lovemaking techniques, advising him to use stuffed animals to practice (“Attractive ones!” he adds, not to mention washable), might be the play’s funniest and most outrageous scene—with a big nod to propmaster Thane H. Allison, who seems to have found, then presumably embellished, the quintessential toy to illustrate Reynaldo’s supposedly well-practiced techniques.
The Cartoon Network-voiced Aria Noelle Curzon is also a charmer as Chastity, the open-faced object of Billy’s moderately wanton desires, a Lolita-esque potential vixen the ever-hardening kid meets at a bus stop—and a girl who’s having a tough time deciding between giving herself fulltime to Jesus Christ or to French kiss the next hot girl who wanders by. Mary Carrig doesn’t have much to do as Billy and Meg’s comatose mother, but when she does actually get to wake up and talk, she appears to be right in step with her costars.
Zolidis’ delightfully twisted and often bleak black comedy marks the local debut of a most promising playwright, although I think his next play, or perhaps the one after that, will be the one that solidifies his future. The World’s Greatest Rodent is a raucously funny and truly fearless effort, but it also leaves the viewer a bit sorry it didn’t ultimately have more to say or that the fate of these characters were graced with some more satisfying resolution. Although Zolidis’ work is wickedly clever and wonderfully sharp-tongued, he should be grateful to have teammates as talented as Ormeny in the director’s chair and Gobienko cast in his demanding leading role. Truly without the surprisingly affecting and seamlessly slick performance of this one goofy kid, particularly from someone so young and presumably not acquainted with Charlie Chaplin, whose aura and comedic timing he seems to inadvertently be channeling, none of the special wonder of this play would have emerged so splendidly.
The World’s Largest Rodent plays through Apr. 13 at the Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; for tickets, call 818.841.5421. For more information, visit www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org