What better way to introduce us to a small blue-collar community in northern Ontario province than with a talking moose sporting an absurdly antlered cap and Great White North accent? In the frozen climes of Way Up Bay, the moose’s monologues are only slightly goofier than the hot-headed family of Italian immigrants whose efforts to hold a reunion dinner are the focus of “Moose on the Loose” at Theatre West.
Inspired by a true story about a wild moose wandering through the backyards of her hometown, Dina Morrone’s amiable new workshop-crafted comedy wears its metaphors unabashedly on its semi-autobiographical sleeve. “We’re all displaced,” says Morrone through her onstage alter ego, Gina, recognizing in the wayward moose’s predicament her transplanted family’s severed cultural roots.
Gina arrives back home in full retreat from her big city marketing career, only one of the life choices that put her at odds with her parents’ traditional values. Complications arise when Gina’s father, Giuseppe (John Cygan), an unemployed construction worker, decides to restore his honor as the family provider by hunting down the moose (Tom Badal, alternating with Eric Allan Kramer), despite the latter’s status as a legally protected species. A surreal conversation between hunter and prey provides a rather charming exchange of outcast perspectives. Giuseppe’s bark is worse than his bite — he’s too much of a softy to actually load his hunting rifle — but still lands him in hot water with the local police.
Morrone’s serviceable dialogue forgoes laugh lines for more situational humor capturing the tensions of large Italian families. Among the play’s dozen roles, some afford little payoff for their stage time — a smaller cast could potentially delve deeper. Still, this gentle character-based ensemble piece achieves its unpretentious ambitions, with Peter Flood’s direction setting an appropriately breezy tone.
By Philip Brandes
“Moose on the Loose,” Theatre West, 3333 W. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 24. $22-$25. (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org. Running time: 2 hours.
Photo: John Cygan and Tom Badal. Credit: Ed Krieger.