According to Condoleezza Rice—or at least according to her State Department, which has granted the British native an O-1 artist visa to live and work in the United States—Jon Ferguson is an “artist of extraordinary ability.” Who am I to disagree? With their new production You’re My Favorite Kind of Pretty, writer/director Ferguson and his collaborators have created a bright and fanciful little world in the grotto-like Southern Theater.
The production feels endearingly miniature, as if the theatergoer were peering into a sugared Easter egg. The moon is a talking balloon, rain falls from cardboard clouds, transportation is by model train, and the fauna consists of stuffed toy bunnies. On this cartoon canvas, Heathcliff (Ferguson) and Miranda (Sara Richardson) enact the trajectory of a romantic relationship—from first flirtation to first procreation. The relationship’s ups and downs alike are portrayed with elliptical representations and stylized metaphors: the moon, for example, represents Miranda’s previous relationship. Sexual congress is represented by a model train running through a tunnel while Heathcliff and Miranda dance to the O’Jays. When Heathcliff’s jealousy of the moon impedes his relationship with Miranda, he must physically battle a green monster. The entire relationship is orchestrated by Fate, as embodied by a humorously impish Jason Ballweber.
The show is great fun to watch. Ferguson, Richardson, and Ballweber work well together, and all three clearly delight in the production’s inventive physicality. The set—a lovely, gently crooked scene created with artist Jennifer Davis—and props are simple, but used to great effect. The centerpiece is a simple box representing Richardson’s little house, and it proves astonishingly versatile as Richardson and Ferguson scramble through it, climb atop it, draw on it, perform a kabuki-like puppet show in its windows, and ultimately ride the entire house down a rainbow to their destiny. The show is a striking contast to Fishtank, currently playing at Theatre de la Jeune Lune. The cold and elaborate set in the cavernous Jeune Lune space is a comic dead zone that muffles the actors’ valiant attempts at offhand slapstick, whereas even the smallest gesture resonates warmly at the cozy Southern with its simple, lovingly handmade sets.
The play has its dark edges, which are part of its appeal—the audience reacted with shocked delight when one of the toy bunnies came into contact with the business end of a chainsaw. It’s a safe bet that Ferguson’s comic bite will be no less evident in his next production, which bears the working title Bury My Heart at Dumb Ass Cowboy.