This morning, a piece of parchment fell from the beak of a carrier pigeon, which flew through the transom of my office door. It contained this mysterious, unsigned verse:
My mind refuses to obey!
Too many cups of Cabernet!
Paella! Rollups! Mayonnaises!
So, help me, Muse, to sing the praises
of DramaRama number nine
so joyful and so asinine;
for, strange to say, the derriere
was in the spotlight everywhere.
For starters, some queer Western folk
(from way downtown, where cows are poked)
gave us, in gay sardonic verbs,
Uranus via Charles Kerbs.
While mikko and his chums presented
monologues that were demented,
and taught men not to be ashamed
of body parts, best left unnamed.
But of all these, the most appealing
was also (gulp!) the most revealing:
a glimpse of Raphaelle O'Neill
in svelte, star-spangled deshabille.
Here the ink was smudged, as though the writer was overcome with emotion. If anyone knows the author of this atrocious doggerel, please keep it to yourself. From now on, I shall make sure the transom is closed and locked. In any case, once again DramaRama was a potpourri of inspired (and uninspired) madness. Improvised levity seems to have crowded out scripted and more serious efforts. Given the festive atmosphere of eats and drinks (not to mention dancing girls), that's probably inevitable. After a few rum-and-Cokes, amid the sound of tribal drums and finger cymbals, a half hour of existential angst seems about as appealing as a snake bite. Like "Art for Art's Sake," DramaRama has become one hell of a party. Welcome to New Orleans.
Meanwhile, over at Rivertown Rep, Chip Steltz recently brought us an amiable musical called Smoke on the Mountain. The play -- a dramatized re-enactment of an Appalachian Saturday Church Sing in the late 1930s -- is little more than a series of monologues sandwiched in between song numbers. The Sanders Family, a gospel group, is appearing in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has a membership of 63 (or "64 when Becca Robinson gets baptized next Sunday.").
The Sanders themselves provide the band. Pearl Sanders (Gloria Fallo) pounds away at the old upright. Dennis Sanders (Kalon Thibodeaux) squeezes the squeezebox. Stanley Sanders (Greg Di Leo) does double duty on the guitar and mouth organ. Burl Sanders plucks the banjo. Vera Sanders (Joanne Mehrtens) and Denise Sanders (Chrissy Garrett) chime in with sterling vocals. The songs never stray far from the country/inspirational idiom, but never grow repetitious. They have a fine balance between authenticity and theatricality -- rousing, infectious and fun.
Holding down stage center, at Rivertown, were brothers Burl and Stanley -- Burl, the dependable paterfamilias; Stanley, the lost sheep returned to the fold. The easy and believable interplay between these two held the play together.
Di Leo, despite those matinee-idol good looks, has a wonderful way with a character part. I don't know what jug of home brew he's been pulling on, but his Stanley was one of those mesmerizing incarnations that takes chances without seeming like it's taking chances. You couldn't help liking the guy, but somehow wouldn't want to get into an argument with him. Luckily, brother Burl seems to know how to deal with him. I guess "once ya fed hogs together, there's just somethin' special between you ever after" ... or something like that. I'm making light of it, but the relationship was really nice to watch.
Thibodeaux, Garrett and Leslie Limberg turned in similarly truthful and ingratiating performances. Both Kyle Daigrepont as the well-meaning, progressive though smarmy Preacher Oglethorpe, and the lovely Mehrtens as Vera Sanders, took a broader approach. In fairness, the play itself can't quite decide what it wants to be: a jokey, tongue-in-cheek hillbilly satire or a tender, if humorous, backward glance.
And so we have, on the one (heavy) hand, a running gag about the big industry in town, a pickle factory -- and on the other, Stanley's touching, somewhat tortured attempt to fit in.
The dignified simplicity of Lance Spellerberg's set was perfectly in tune with this more naturalistic dimension of the script. All in all, Smoke on the Mountain was a surprisingly enjoyable musical portrait of backwater Americana.
- While DramaRama was its usual rollercoaster ride of theater, Rivertown Rep's Smoke on the Mountain (pictured) was an inspired and musical look at rural Americana in the first half of the 20th century.