For those who loved the old Hanna-Barbera animated whodunit TV series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? as a kid, then wondered years later why the hell you did, maybe Spooky Dog and the Teenage Gang Mysteries will explain it all for you.
On the surface, Rarely Done Production’s latest effort, at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St., offers a precise parody of the Saturday-morning TV favorite with its live-action cartoon replication. Underneath the groovy hypercolored veneer, however, there are giveaways that nothing is quite the same. The sleuths’ Clue Caravan, for instance, sports a painting of a marijuana leaf on the front of their van. As Spooky Dog, the semi-talking Great Dane, might say, “Ruh-oh.”
For the uninitiated, the Scooby Doo cartoon franchises, numbering more than 300 installments, have aired almost continuously since their September 1969 debut. Veteran deejay Casey Kasem lent his distinctive voice to the hippie character Shaggy, given to catch phrases such as “Zoinks!” The mysteries were nearly interchangeable each week, with easily solvable puzzlers, slapstick comic relief and catchpenny animation techniques that often featured the same stylized backgrounds repeated over and over.
Not that the kiddies in front of their boob tubes minded, even when the show “jumped the shark” with the New Scooby Doo Movies format from 1972 to 1974. Guest voices such as Don Knotts and Dick Van Dyke were featured, but the hour-long episodes often stretched a format that had already relied too much on limited animation. A pair of movie adaptations featuring stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. also hit the multiplexes in 2002 and 2004, respectively, earning respectable box office.
Still, the cartoon must have seemed like easy pickins for satirists Eric Pliner and Amy Rhodes. Their Spooky Dog dates back to the 1999 Fringe Festival, when it was known as Jinkies! until copyright issues flared up. The authors nail the show’s formulaic trappings, although subtext here is everything. So bespectacled, brainy Thelma (Gennaro Parlato in drag) now has the hots for bubble-headed Tiffany (Rita Worlock), as does the blond pompadoured Ted (Derek Potocki). Meanwhile, there’s a good reason why flower-power slacker Scraggly (Josh Taylor) and Spooky Dog (Billy Sweeney) are always so hungry: They’re both stoners in need of frequent munchies.
This “episode,” titled The Case of the Fairgrounds Phantom, has the gang investigating the planned disappearance of Michael Jackson at the Creepola County Fair, thus kicking off a passel of one-liners knocking the late Gloved One’s strangeness. There is also considerable scene-chewing involving Robert Kovak’s turn as a horny hillbilly nicknamed Big Woody, as well as Theresa Constantine as the heavy-accented fortune teller Fortuana, as the actress seems to be channeling Maria Ouspenskaya’s gypsy role from 1941’s The Wolf Man.
Gennaro Parlato has the most to work with as the magnifying glass-toting Thelma, conjuring a butch bitchiness that takes no prisoners. Rita Worlock as vapid diva Tiffany and Derek Potocki’s crotch-thrusting Ted showcase the couple’s overt sexual tensions that never existed on those old painted animation cels. And Josh Taylor’s Scraggly and Billy Sweeney as Spooky enjoy an extended Cheech and Chong routine, as they occasionally jump into each other’s arms between scares and spliffs.
The Scooby Doo series might be a pop culture touchstone for some, yet Spooky Dog’s inspired transgressions manage a kind of raunchy irreverence. Director Dan Tursi’s speedy handling throws in everything from an up-to-the-minute Fifty Shades of Grey reference to a Captain and Tennille lip-sync hoedown. Amazingly, it all holds together as a lowbrow lark that should appeal to baby boomers, the gay theatergoing clientele and forgiving cartoon buffs. Just keep the small fry at home.
This production runs through Saturday, Feb. 23. See Times Table for information.