- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2001

Did you ever put on puppet shows using construction paper and stuff from your mother's grab bag or what-not drawer?

Paul Zaloom does the same thing in "Velvetville" at the Studio Theatre. The performance artist and puppeteer grabs items from the dollar store and junk closet to concoct a loosey-goosey blend of social and political commentary. Saturday morning TV devotees may remember Mr. Zaloom as the crazy scientist Beakman on "Beakman's World," and the breakneck speed, doofus humor and reliance on silly sound effects and voices in "Velvetville" bear traces of a children's show.

We watch Mr. Zaloom perform fake dental surgery on himself (using an overhead projector and an assortment of props, including a wire hanger) and witness such visual one-liners as house flies representing bacteria and Play-doh filling in for stretchy and goopy tooth roots and think, "Gee, my kid would love this."

Adults may have to access their inner 10-year-old to fully savor the groaner humor, gross-out moments and cheerful anarchy (think of the shiniest moments from "Pee-wee's Playhouse" crossed with Mr. Bill skits) dispensed by Mr. Zaloom in his 75-minute show.

"Velvetville" uses multimedia — but things like overhead projectors, cardboard puppets, kitschy velvet paintings and relentless props — to relate the story of a wildly disjointed dream he has had. In the dream, he's a rubber, squeaky rat ("Low self-esteem, I guess," he remarks) whipping from one surreal experience to the next — a typical day in downtown Los Angeles, his own funeral, a vacation in Vermont, death, politics, the Disneyization of America and various environmental concerns.

Mr. Zaloom races through the Salvador Dali-meets-"Ren and Stimpy" surrealism of his dreamscape drawing on disposable aluminum trays full of junk, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tacky shower curtains (which hilariously portray the four seasons in New England), found objects and puppets that range from the crude to the elaborate. He subscribes to the vaudeville theory of comedy — he's got a million of 'em. If some of his jokes and bits fall short, never fear. Hundreds more are to follow.

Much of the material seems as throwaway as the piles of discarded props he flings to the stage floor. The humor in "Velvetville" is not terribly sophisticated — the Los Angeles police, i.e. the heat, ride in on an iron, and President Bush is represented by a noose. But as long as you get into the student-level high jinks of the piece, you will find yourself laughing at the nuttiest and most obvious things.

For all the low-tech aspects of the piece, Mr. Zaloom is quite graceful and adept at juggling puppets, slides, furniture and stuff we might consider garbage — all the while doing many voices and twisting his face into an infinite variety of wacky expressions.

However, if you cannot relax into the zaniness, "Velvetville" may just rub you the wrong way.{*}{*}1/2WHAT: "Velvetville"WHEN: Through Feb. 18. 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 7:30 Feb. 11 and Wednesday through Feb. 18WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1333 P St. NWTICKETS: $19.50 to $39.50PHONE: 202/332-3300

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