Who's Zaloomin' Who?

Like a little kid playing with his toys, quirky puppeteer Paul Zaloom makes believe that a cardboard cutout is a miniature logging truck and that a bunch of junky fake flowers is a tropical rain forest. Little plastic gag monkeys (the type you can hang from the rim of a glass) dangle merrily in the "branches," but through the power of imagination and sound effects, Zaloom makes the truck mow down the trees. There's a message to his madness: Deforestation is bad. The point is driven home when a magazine -- the paper for which was made from the massacred trees -- pops out from behind the truck.

"It's a National Geographic with a cover story about disappearing monkeys," says comic and TV personality Zaloom, and such irony is the basis for his latest one-man puppet show, Velvetville."I use found objects to lampoon various aspects of society," he explains.

The logging scene and others play out like elaborate shadow plays as Zaloom maneuvers objects above an old-fashioned overhead projector. Other segments are performed on a puppet stage, while still others are rants sparked by a series of black-velvet paintings. Dressed in horribly clashing pajamas and a wacky nightcap, Zaloom careens from one show element to another like a madman.


Paul Zaloom performs Velvetville as part of the Puppet Festival of the Americas

Broward Center For the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale

8 p.m. Saturday, June 24. Tickets cost $25. Call 954-522-5334.

Probably best known as the zany-scientist title character of Beakman's World,ostensibly a children's science TV program, Zaloom says that 52 percent of that show's audience is actually adults. "A lot of people who like Beakman's World will love the adult show. They'll never have seen anything like this before."

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Heck, we'd never seen a grown man in mismatched pj's cavorting on stage, and Zaloom's show, his tenth solo puppet work, offers much more.

"The cheap special effects thing is a lot of the appeal of this," Zaloom suggests. "And what makes [the show] funny is how old-school it is and low-tech and cheesy, especially in the face of how slick everything is now."

When a space shuttle model takes off from the overhead projector as Zaloom rants about the wastefulness of the space program, for instance, the plume of jagged smoke trailing behind the craft is cut out of a ten-dollar bill.

The velvet paintings are jumping-off points for bits, and one gaudy piece depicts a doe-eyed waif in front of a theater searching for handouts. "It's all about this poor street kid begging for money," Zaloom notes. "In New York City, people want the homeless to go to jail if they don't go to the shelter, but at the same time they're going to see Les Misérables. Somebody explain that to me. How does that work?"

Zaloom creates the desired mood for staged puppet scenes with shower-curtain backdrops, including a loud floral print for his Vermont mockup.

"I lay out Vermont and it's the springtime, so I use a shower curtain with all of the flowers on it," he says. "I have Fungus Falls -- one of those bathmats in the shape of a foot -- a little general store, and a church, which is this broken plastic fake stained glass."

Playing a tourist lout, Zaloom then wreaks havoc on nature to serve his own needs. "I go skiing, so then I decide that the river has to be diverted back up the mountain to make snow." This can only be accomplished, of course, once the river thaws, and Zaloom pops his bubble-wrap waterway for effect.

By show's end, as punishment for his crass commercialism and environmental insensitivity, Zaloom ends up in Hell, where a set of Mickey Mouse ears stands in for the underworld welcome center.

"This fish comes up to me with a six-pack holder around its neck and says, 'You went to the beach in Maine, didn't you? Thanks for the necklace. Why don't you try it on?'"

Even if folks don't have time to digest his sociopolitical banter between chuckles, that's all right with Zaloom. "I just want them to leave the theater with their faces hurting," he says, "having laughed their asses off about something that's eventually going to kill them."

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