Popular culture lately seems overrun with talking animals. The funny-sad Netflix series BoJack Horseman stars a talking horse, backed by a talking dog, a talking cat, and a supporting talking menagerie. The movie Ted a few years back had Mark Wahlberg’s teddy bear coming to life. And let’s not even get started on Pixar.
Add to this anthropomorphic genre Koalas Are Dicks, Larry Phillips’ rude comedy that sets out to prove its title, and that most humans are dicks, too. Only he’s not applying that phallic description to all koalas—just one, Brody (Peter Buck Dettmann), the star (like BoJack) of an inane but insanely popular network sitcom. He’s holed up in a dingy motel room outside LAX, designed with suitable grime and clutter by Meg McGuigan, boozing, doing blow, and awaiting a hooker hired by his assistant, Ross (Phillips), a former child star fallen on hard times. Eventually the hooker (Griffin Hennelly) arrives and is not the gender they expected, but hey, they paid for him.
It’s a crowded room, in fact: Also on hand are Brody’s agent (Patrick T. Horn), trying to convince him to sign a new contract and catapult the series into syndication; Brody’s handler (Tiffany May McRae), who lied her way into the job and now has to bear his insults and hold the cup when he poops; and his co-star (Phoebe Leonard), a name-dropping British prima donna who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and won’t let anybody forget it. Meantime, a few dozen paparazzi are outside, demanding to know “Will Brody sign or won’t he?” The koala—he hates being called a bear—is temperamental, and already so rich that he’d just as soon hang it all up. The agent, actress, handler, and best bud have disparate reasons for opposing that. Chaos, and much drinking, whoring and drugging ensue.
It’s an evening of bad behavior, and essentially an extended sketch. And Phillips can’t sustain it, though he comes up with some fun ways of trying. He really skewers Hollywood culture and the greedy, depraved personalities it attracts, and he takes enjoyable potshots at many notables. (“Where’d you get a horse tranquilizer?” “I went to Hebrew school with Shia LaBeouf.”) It’s not every show that riffs about Guy Pearce, Mark Rylance, Ryan Gosling, Birdman, and, quite extensively, John Cusack. While that’s going on, Dettmann, employing an authentic Aussie accent and clearly having a blast, leaps about the room and crouches amiably on the table and mini-fridge, lampooning ursine artistic temperament and reveling in the rudeness. Brody’s a terror, and so is pretty much everyone else—although some characters display initial signs of sympathy and decency, those all fade away by the time Koalas Are Dicks is over.
It’s cheerfully amoral, and one wishes Ben Liebert, the director, had brought more discipline to it. His directorial style is largely have-the-actors-face-front-and-shout, though Horn, as the gentle-seeming agent, exhibits a greater mood range. The pace is fast, and sometimes the actors jabber too quickly to be heard clearly. Leonard’s slumming thespian, embarrassed to be in a sitcom but frantic about possibly losing it, has some good material but plays it one-note. McRae’s inept support staff, who rises to competence when confronted with crisis, doesn’t manage the transition altogether credibly. Similarly, Hennelly, while a jolly airport hooker—one funny bit has him mistaking the lyrics to “Hang On, Sloopy,” his seduction music, as “Hang On, Snoopy,” and getting petulant when he’s corrected—has a last-minute character turnabout he can’t quite pull off. And that last minute ends the evening on a discordant down note.
This stuff probably plays better in L.A., where the jokes about Cuyahoga Boulevard and the 405 and who in Hollywood is screwing whom would have more resonance and immediacy. But in these pop culture–sated days, we’re all ready to grin at the extreme behavior of the privileged folk of the entertainment industry and the utter lack of principle they display in pursuing their wants. Koalas Are Dicks is potty-mouthed and inconsequential, but you’ll probably have a good time. And you may never think the same of John Cusack again.
Koalas Are Dicks runs through Feb. 24 at Theater 80 St. Marks (80 St. Marks Place between First and Second avenues). Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For tickets and information call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit koalasaredicks.com.