Punkin Productions

at Angel Island

The popular idea is that spring is the season for lovers–but how do you know you’re in love? According to John Patrick Shanley in these six short plays, called collectively Welcome to the Moon, you know it’s the real thing when (1) you leave parties early or, better yet, turn back at the door, as John and Mary do in “The Red Coat,” (2) you blow off your oldest friends, as Walter does in “A Lonely Impulse of Delight” and the woman does in “Let’s Go Out Into the Starry Night,” (3) you obsess for 14 years over your high school sweetheart, as Stephen does in “Welcome to the Moon,” (4) you allow yourself to be killed to save the life of the one you love but never tell him he’s the reason, as Betsy does in “Out West,” (5) you repeatedly try to kill yourself–ineptly, of course–because the one you love doesn’t love you, but you never tell him he’s the reason, as Ronny does in “Welcome to the Moon,” (6) you love someone who loves you but is forever inaccessible, as Walter also does in “A Lonely Impulse of Delight,” and (7) you cry–a lot, as do all of the above in all of the above.

If some of these actions appear rather risky, have no fear–Love Will Conquer All the minute you and the object of your affection/obsession look at the moon and/or stars, kiss, cry, and confess your love. Oh, yes–and in five out of seven instances, the love object will turn out to love you too, if only for a moment. After all, isn’t it more romantic to yearn for someone than to consummate a relationship (the reason fairy tales always end when the lovers are reunited)? And isn’t dying for a pure love, uncorrupted by carnal desire, the most romantic thing one can do?

Shanley’s career has been founded on the formula of self-destructive, none-too-bright misfits crippled by isolation meeting and being instantly transformed by love. And if the odd ways in which this conjunction occurs–one woman empties her water glass over her head in order to attract the attention of the man at the next table, and another declares, “I don’t know about tomorrow, but right this minute I love you”–strike you as likely to involve paternity suits, divorce courts, social service agencies, and homicide squadrons, then you are hopelessly unromantic. And you will quickly be exasperated by such drivel as “The ghost I made of my mother is ugly and her revenge is to frighten me,” to which the reply is, “It’s so refreshing to talk to a man like you . . . I’m skinny because my soul is famished.”

Fortunately the performances of the Punkin Productions ensemble make this deafening chorus of “All You Need Is Love” infinitely more tolerable. Though the troupe adheres strictly to the usual improv-comedy personnel requirements–a straight guy, a funny guy, a funny-looking guy, and two pretty girls–as directed by Carrie Chantler, all five display a respect and compassion for their characters unusual in young actors. This willingness to take Shanley’s silliness seriously gives a charming ingenuousness to inane speeches like “This may sound sophomoric, but I think there’s a sophomore in all of us waiting to get out.” (But nothing can rescue the juvenile pretense of “Down and Out,” in which wolves literally howl at the door of a starving poet whose soul is literally locked up in a box to which his true love literally has the key.)

“We have this potential for joy,” says one starry-eyed swain. Punkin Productions has the potential to be more than just another bright, fresh troupe of the sort that too often sours into smart-assed self-righteousness. What they need is, not somebody to love, but material with more substance than Shanley’s one-note sermon.