‘Pookie Goes Grenading’ at Ore Dock Brewing Co.

Hanna Numinen plays as Pookie in a recent production “Pookie Goes Grenading” at the Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette. (Courtesy photo by Nick Steffey)

By BRENNA WOMER

Special to the Journal

MARQUETTE – Wolf’s Head Theatre Company and Director Jamie Weeder brings “Pookie Goes Grenading” to the Ore Dock Brewing Company stage. Wolf’s Head is a subsidiary of UPShakes’ and according to their mission statement, the company aims to create “provocative, relevant and captivating modern theatre in the Upper Peninsula.” That said, “Pookie Goes Grenading” is about as modern as it gets. The story of a precocious 14-year-old girl’s vigilante task of putting on her play with the help of a few select classmates and their irresolute guidance counsellor, the script — written by JC Lee — is generously peppered with contemporary pop-culture and political references. It’s clever, unpredictable, bawdy and full of heart. Additionally, the rousing pop-music interludes from various decades, DJed by Weeder, had nearly every audience member dancing and singing along in their seats between scenes.

Despite a rowdy and perhaps overly-participatory opening-night audience, the cast of Pookie deftly managed the stage. The star of the show, Pookie herself, is exactly that — a star. Played by Nothern Michigan University junior Hanna Numinen, Pookie is the lone source of the play’s fire, the energy that propels the production through to the end. Numinen tackles the role with aplomb, delivering breathless monologues with enviable consistency and commitment. Her performance is fevered, precise and a treat to watch.

Balancing out Pookie’s impossible energy are her fellow classmates Dynamo Delgado (Tanner Parish), Benny Petricelli (Nathan Morgan), and Greta Van Susteren (Taylor Kulju) and guidance counselor Larry Ragonesse (Karl Numinen). The play opens with a scene between Pookie and Dynamo, and immediately the dynamic of the friendship is apparent: Pookie is the dreamer who dominates the conversation and calls the shots, while Dynamo is happy to give intermittent feedback and be along for the ride. Parish plays Dynamo with subtlety and sensitivity, and I would challenge any audience member to leave the production without being endeared to the character and actor alike.

Though the relationships between many of the characters are curious and unique, the two most compelling, to my eye, exist between Pookie and Larry and Dynamo and Benny. Some may attribute the chemistry between Pookie and her guidance counselor to the fact that the actors are a real-life father/daughter pair, but I think this assumption undermines their individual performances and on-stage acumen. While their interactions, mostly on Pookie’s end, are unsettling at times, they are also relentlessly funny and extravagant. The comedy in scenes between Dynamo and Benny–one locker-room exchange in particular–takes a completely different tone but manages to hold its own amidst the chaos and extremity of every scene that includes the title character, which is most of them.

The play ultimately tackles themes of identity, creative passion, rejection, determination and absurdity. It’s campy, deadpan and self-aware, in the vein of films like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Hamlet 2,” and all at once inspires joy, confusion, nostalgia and the impulse to create — to care deeply and passionately for something; to have a dream. With performances scheduled through May 29, I suggest you get your tickets for “Pookie Goes Grenading” now at www.upshakes.org/tickets. You don’t want to miss it.