The Factory Theater’s bawdy take on the secret lives of ’80s kids’ show characters is too predictable to shock.
The premise behind Mike Ooi’s Captain Steve’s Caring Kingdom poses a fairly simple question: What do the characters of an ’80s, H.R. Pufnstuf-esque kids’ show get up to whenever their host, Captain Steve, isn’t around? And the answer it provides is also simple: The animal denizens of the Caring Kingdom live fairly miserable, workaday lives. Their marriages falter or fail, their bosses harass them, their dreams get crushed under the weight of adult responsibilities, and a number of them harbor some pretty strange fetishes.
It’s a standard recipe for comedy. You take something pure and idyllic, like children’s television, rough it up with a bunch of real-world swearing and sex, and voila! Laughs. Except there aren’t enough laughs in Captain Steve. Nor is there the kind of hard-won pathos that can make up for that scarcity. It’s a simple recipe, yes, but the ingredients here are all out of proportion.
As the play begins, Captain Steve’s trusty sidekick, the perpetually cheery OK Bear (Scott OKen), is eagerly awaiting the captain’s arrival. Never mind that his wife Ellie the elephant (Brittany Ellis) has to work full-time and that he should be spending today looking after the pair’s disturbed son, Grimsby. OK’s friend Beaky the hawk (Chris Hainsworth) doesn’t seem too thrilled about Steve’s arrival either as he traipses around with a bad attitude, a six-pack and a sailor’s mouth.
When the good captain fails to materialize, the two have to go tell the Kingdom’s incredibly silly King (Christopher Walsh) what’s happened, which is when things really start to turn dark. The kingdom falls into a panic that soon transforms into a violent kind of nihilism, building to a series of startling rape jokes that could be charitably described as a wild miscalculation.
Time and time again Ooi, who also directs, tries to have his characters grapple with truly mature themes, but his bawdy, high-school-boy sense of humor (see: rape jokes) leaves little room for serious reflection. Ooi wants to take the cheery, wigged-out world of ’80s kids’ TV and dose it with adult complexities, but the show itself is far too immature for that kind of trip. It doesn’t help that the production itself is clunkily staged, which undercuts a number of strong performances, particularly from Hainsworth and Walsh.
The play wants to shock audiences by having cartoon characters swear and drink and screw, but it also wants audiences to feel something when these same characters experience profound existential crises. A more skillfully constructed show could probably have it both ways, but Captain Steve’s Caring Kingdom cannot. It’s too crude to be taken seriously, but almost nothing it does is shocking either. And is there anything duller than being crude and predictable?
The Factory Theater. Written and directed by Mike Ooi. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.