Theater

'Lost & Foundling' Offers Laughs in Bulk for Young and Old

Pryce (Taisha Cameron) encounters the Never-Ending Line in
Pryce (Taisha Cameron) encounters the Never-Ending Line in "Lost & Foundling," a sendup of the discount retailer universe, at Imagination Stage. (By Scott Suchman -- Imagination Stage)
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By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Forget eating raw meat and swinging through the jungle on vines. For a truly hair-raising adventure, try searching for vacuum cleaner bags in a department store the size of Texas.

Playwright Eric R. Pfeffinger knows that thrills and chills are different these days than a century ago. That's why he's penned "Lost & Foundling," a tongue-in-cheek "Tarzan" update, set in an establishment that resembles Wal-Mart on steroids. Imagination Stage is presenting the comedy, which is aimed at family audiences. While director Janet Stanford's production feels slow in places -- partly because Pfeffinger's script could use some tightening -- many of the retail-related jokes will strike adult audiences as hilarious. As for children -- they know a chortling parent is a good thing, right?

The plot in brief: When a baby is abandoned in a Mega Price-Mart -- a shopper's paradise, where manufacturer's coupons are doubled every Tuesday! -- the sunny employees name her Pryce and raise her there. When young Pryce (Taisha Cameron) resolves to make the perilous journey to the Lost and Found at the far end of the store, she must match wits against the dreaded Demanding Shopper (Linden Tailor) and the notorious but not-very-scary Slasher (Misty Demory), whose job it is to discount items using a sticker gun called Elvis.

Scenic designer Milagros Ponce de León and properties designer Kathryn Pong trust the audience to fantasize about Price-Mart's bounty, so the set consists simply of empty shelves, shopping baskets, aisle signs and cut-out human silhouettes, all in shades of blue. Fitting in with this color scheme are the blue-vested Price-Mart employees, including the controlling Staci (Susan Lynskey) -- a character who doubles as narrator.

With her hyper-pert style of speech and aggressively bobbing ponytail, Lynskey gives the production a welcome sharpness. Cameron is suitably childlike as Pryce, and Mark Krawczyk and Chris Mancusi turn in amiable versions of Staci's colleagues, a blithe custodian and a doddering sales associate. In a bohemian skirt and a mop of red ringlets, Demory's lisping Slasher is a sweet oddball, but the actress is funnier as the cheesy-pizza-hawking Free Samples lady.

As for Tailor, he's a scream as the Demanding Shopper ("I'd like to see if you have an item that's the exact opposite of this one? Maybe you have it in the back?"), sporting a black windbreaker with price tags still on it. In scenes like this one, director Stanford and costume designer Marietta Greene-Hambrick have done a nice job turning Pfeffinger's sketch-comedy jokes into surreal stage moments.

The Ohio-based Pfeffinger, who has written plays for adult audiences, gives his coming-of-age tale a requisite feel-good ending, but "Lost & Foundling" is best as a snarky spoof of the mass-merchandising ethos. In one particularly memorable image, Pryce encounters a bride, a football player (with helmet), and other eccentric figures standing in Price-Mart's equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle: The Never-Ending Line. What are these patient people waiting for? Who knows? But pretty soon, everybody will want one.

Lost & Foundling by Eric R. Pfeffinger. Directed by Janet Stanford; lighting designer, Colin K. Bills; composer and sound designer, Matthew M. Nielsen; choreography, Kelly Williams. About 75 minutes. Through March 2 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or visit http://www.imaginationstage.org.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company