Controversial PBS Cartoon Is Focus of Denver World Premiere, Dusty

News   Controversial PBS Cartoon Is Focus of Denver World Premiere, Dusty Dusty and the Big Bad World, Cusi Cram's fact-inspired satiric comedy about an animated TV character — a magic dustball — caught between conservative and liberal forces, opens Jan. 29 in a world-premiere production by Denver Center Theatre Company. Previews began Jan. 23.
Dusty and the Big Bad World star Kelly McAndrew.
Dusty and the Big Bad World star Kelly McAndrew. Photo by Terry Shapiro

DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson directs Dusty and the Big Bad World, playing to Feb. 28 at The Space Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the Tony Award-winning resident DCTC.

According to DCTC, Dusty and the Big Bad World "is a wildly humorous story about bigotry and the censorship of 'Dusty,' a public television children's series about a dust ball."

For the new play, Cram used her own experiences as part of the writing team for the PBS animated series "Arthur." She was inspired to write the play after a national controversy erupted from a segment of an "Arthur" spinoff called "Postcards from Buster." Part documentary, part animation, the "Postcards" episode dealt with a girl with two gay moms in Vermont. The head of PBS and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education became involved, and eventually the funding was pulled for the program.

The so-called "Buster"-gate directly affected Cram and her husband, also a writer for "Arthur."

The Denver cast includes Kelly McAndrew as Jessica (the TV series producer-writer), Jeanine Serralles as Karen, Charlotte Booker as Marianne, Sam Gregory as Nathan and Chloe Nosan as Lizzie Goldberg-Jones. New York actress McAndrew gets to bite into the role of Jessica, the producer-creator of the "Dusty" show.

McAndrew told Playbill.com, "Jessica is, I think, an amalgamation of a lot of the producers [playwright Cusi Cram] has worked with in her time as a writer for Public/children's television.

"Jessica is a fascinating dichotomy. She's a successful producer — but successful in the world of public television, which doesn't exactly make her rich and powerful — and she created this show, 'Dusty,' and has won Emmys and a Peabody and is now in a position to develop other shows.

"She is caught in a bitter battle about whether a show she produced — about a little girl with two dads — should be aired. And I think her great struggle is that in order to protect the future of the entire 'Dusty' show she has to — as she/Cusi puts it — 'sacrifice things, principles, things that matter to me…' I also love what is ultimately revealed about her — and [that she's] absolutely shattered about the choices she's having to make.

"I'm really proud to be working on this play right now. …Working on a new play, a comedy at that, that looks at the issue of gay marriage, gay parenting and the media…is a real privilege and a hell of a lot of fun."

McAndrew added that Cram puts "at the heart of this play a 20-something young woman, Karen (the brilliant Jeanine Seralles) and somehow manages to avoid all of the typical cliches we've seen in the past few years that center around the 20-something sect. I find that very inspiring as well."

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Artistic director Thompson selected the comedy to be read at the 2008 Colorado New Play Summit, and for this world premiere production, because he "loved the way the play deals with the way we teach our children, Children's TV, and gay marriage — taking the audience to surprising places, politically."

Designing a children's animated show that is set in the suburbs are scenic designer William Bloodgood, costume designer Bill Black, lighting designer Charles R. MacLeod and sound designer Jason Ducat.

Dramaturgy is by Paul Walsh. Voice and dialect coach is Kathryn G. Maes.

Dusty and Michele Lowe's commissioned drama Inana are now the centerpiece full-production premieres in DCTC's 2009 Colorado New Play Summit, set for Feb. 12-14. (That special weekend coincides with the run of Inana and Dusty and includes readings of other works.)

For tickets and more information, call (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641-1222 or visit www.denvercenter.org.

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Audience members are invited to explore the world of "Dusty" — "everyone's favorite magic dust ball" — by visiting a special website created for the show www.DustyandtheBigBadWorld.com. The special site includes information about the fictional TV series, the animated "Dusty" theme song, "Dusty" merchandise, and reviews of the series by some of Denver and the nation's top TV critics.

Chloe Nosan, Jeanine Serralles and Charlotte Booker in <i>Dusty and the Big Bad World</i>.
Chloe Nosan, Jeanine Serralles and Charlotte Booker in Dusty and the Big Bad World. Photo by Terry Shapiro