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by Paul Zaloom
at PS122
New York, NY
January 5, 2000
reviewed by Donald Devet

There's one question that Paul Zaloom never gets asked after one of his shows: "What are your puppets made of?" For one thing, Zaloom doesn't even use puppets; he performs with found objects, the odd and familiar stuff our throw away society manufactures. And second, in the strictest sense, Zaloom doesn't perform a "puppet show." He uses his "stuff" as props, as metaphors, as devices to populate his wacky vision of the world.

There are many practitioners of the found object school but nobody does it quite like Zaloom. He is the undisputed Emperor of Trash. And he's been playing with trash for quite some time. Velvetville is his tenth solo show. So one would expect a lot from this award winning (Obie) writer, designer, performer. But with Velvetville, the Emperor has no show.

Zaloom narrates this performance using his own voice as well as a multitude of character voices. His vocal range is admirable. We are told Zaloom has had a dream he would like to relate to the audience. So far so good. Any dream Zaloom has had, has got to be entertaining. Zaloom dreamed he was a rat ("low self-esteem") living in L.A. In typical Zaloom fashion, L.A. is represented on a table top stage covered with a tacky black and white geometric shower curtain. His apartment complex? A stack of cardboard egg cartons. The laughs are already coming.

Velvetville is episodic. Zaloom narrates a chaotic and aimless series of misadventures- from the bottom of the ocean, to the top of Everest, to the moon and even to the country where no man returns- all in a search for the elusive state of mind called Velvetville.

A trip to the dentist seen via shadow screen is a slapstick teeth pulling gag reminiscent of an old vaudeville sketch. Velvet paintings of cliched scenes of the doe eyed waif, billiard playing dogs and The Last Supper (Zaloom version- The Last Brunch) are nothing more than show and tell props. Zaloom points to the paintings with a plumber's helper, elaborating on what we are viewing. The velvet paintings are the weakest part of the evening. Odd, considering the show's title.

Two thirds of the way through the seventy-five minute show, Zaloom starts to question his own fascination (obsession?) with "junk." He abandons his props altogether to do a Jackie Mason style stand up comedy routine. According to Zaloom, you would think getting the stuff you need to put on a trashy show like this would be easy. But he begs to differ. When you need six egg cartons, they're never in the trash at the time you need them. You have to go out and buy them; then consume all the eggs, which only raises your cholesterol level and makes the veins in your neck pop out.

Zaloom demonstrates his scavenger techniques by burrowing through a back stage trash can. A lunch sack from a delivery order disgorges dozens of unused plastic forks and napkins onto the stage floor. Maybe this is the point Zaloom is trying to make. He wants to admonish us for our casual waste. It's a theme Zaloom is familiar with. Because he makes such clever use of the "stuff" we so casually throw away, he forces us to see the plastic fork in a new light.

But Velvetville falls short of fulfilling its promise to transport us to a different state of mind. The biggest fault is the frantic pacing of the show. Zaloom is in high gear from the beginning, never taking his foot off the gas. At first it's amazing to watch him speed from one scene to the next. Like a little kid on Christmas morning surrounded by presents, Zaloom tears into his trash, eager to show off his new toys. But after a while, what had first appeared as lightning in a bottle becomes a numbing potion. Because the pacing is frenetic with no valleys in which to catch a breath, there ends up being no highs either.

Zalooms dream is too disjointed to invite engagement. We only sit outside the cage and watch wild man Zaloom swing from the branches without having to invest any part of ourselves.

The major problem seems to be the choice of the "I had a dream" approach. Dreams usually don't require parameters. They don't have to make sense or even have an agenda. But structure is exactly what Velvetville needs to make it more than a showcase for Zalooms talents. Velvetville is all over the place and at the same time goes nowhere.

Maybe sensing that this hodgepodge needed to end on a memorable scene, Zaloom saves the best for last. His dream takes him into the future to the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia. All the political personalities are represented by satiric props- George W. Bush (hang man's noose), Bill Bradley and Al Gore (pieces of lumber). The political humor is exactly what the audience has been hungry for. They eat it up. But the scene ends all too soon. Zaloom's alarm clock goes off. He wakes from his dream. Show over. After an exhausting roller coaster ride, we are left with admiration for Zaloom's considerable energy and talent but with a strong desire never to return to Velvetville.

Copyright © 2000 Donald Devet

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