by Ed Malin · March 1, 2016
Punk Grandpa by Laura Force Scruggs, directed by Janie Martinez, comes to the 10th annual Frigid Festival in a new, multi-performer production. I saw this interesting piece as a solo show in the 2015 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. There is plenty to like in this version, including increased physicality and some hot dance numbers.
Laura’s Grandpa Bob Pohlmann (Ken Coughlin) knew it didn’t mean a thing if it didn’t have that swing. His happiness for life did not pay lip service to the rules of his churchy community around Normal, Illinois. Laura (Becky Chong) is seen as a young child saying her prayers before bed. Grandpa Bob taught her how to live in a way that would put hair on her chest, and, one night, snuck into her bedroom and taped some of his hair to her chest. She grows up to be a wearer of rainbow tights.
Laura’s family and friends (played by Mitchel Kawash, Bree Klauser, Michael Pichardo and Rachel Ladd) regularly share in and are shaped by grandpa’s sense of humor. Instead of using the lavatory he goes to the “twilight”. He greets all the ladies in church and calls them all “Miss America”. He tells Laura he has 25 girlfriends, i.e. all of the local bank tellers. For the status-obsessed community folks he has some choice words; he tells them his daughter and son have lucrative careers in New York, as a pimp and as an employee. He does some memorable swing dancing with his wife, all dazzlingly choreographed by Rori Nogee.
If you feel happy listening to “Sing Sing Sing”, “Sophisticated Lady”, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and the like, or if your grandpa always played American music, you will feel at home in this story. There are plenty of photos and videos of Grandpa Bob, who is almost always seen dancing, whether with babies or with every woman at a party. He drives on the sidewalk and creatively confounds the policeman who comes to check up on him, as well as Laura, who has been taught not to lie. Grandpa Bob, like 1 in 3 seniors, succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, but it looks like the fun didn’t end in the nursing home; reportedly, Grandpa Bob was found in the bed of another patient, a beautiful lady. That is just one more charming part of this very real story, which shows that some of the nicest and most vital people we know may have to confront this disease.
Everyone involved in this production pays loving tribute to those people who taught their grandkids that it’s OK to be weird. Being weird gets you noticed for all sorts of reasons and may make you unforgettable. Lauren Arneson, family relation of Grandpa Bob, again wears the hats of stage manager, dramaturg and the fashionable Frigid penguin hat.