Howl at the Center is a Hot Hoot

by Kevin T McEneaney

There’s a bright, speeding comet in the neighborhood and if you don’t look up The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck this weekend, you will miss what will most likely be the most amusing local theatrical experience of this year: seven one-act plays by The predominant theme in most of the short plays offered satire on a most delicious topic: the varied rainbow of narcissism.

The song “Business Plan” from the musical Makeover written and directed by Darah Cloud, noted television scriptwriter and playwright, was sung superbly sung with wit and charm by Mary Rotella, and accompanied by pianist Nancy Theeman: the song wittily limed the story of an internationally successful woman who created the largest and most successful cosmetic company on the planet at the heels of World War II with catchy, boastful lyrics that ridicule the jingoism of the self-satisfied advertising world.

Home Base written and directed by Luisa Vilardi articulates the pathos and frustration of senility and Alzheimer’s disease with father-son dialogue between Lou Trapani and Brian Petti accompanied by the theme of baseball, as the transient heaven of happy working-class memories.

Pauline’s Hair Express written and directed by Dwight Watson and performed by Louisa Vilardi and Jaimie Ritchie-Watson occurs during the Covid pandemic when half the country went crazy, and our then President told the country to drink chlorine if you want to feel better. This was a hilarious satire on the deep paranoia that frazzled and confused many people. I am sure that everyone endured some ridiculous things during that era, and it was cathartic to look back and laugh.

Put It To Rest written by Anthony Leiner and Directed by Melissa Mathews featured two siblings in a funeral hone self-hatingly angry at their father’s death with the funeral director attempting to massage them into a semblance of civility, and when all appears hopeless after the destruction of some of the funeral home, a maudlin reversal of mourning occurs. Funeral director Michael J. Clark was an angel of reason while Justin Doro as the son was a tormented slob and his sister, Cassiopeia Ottulich, was the hysterical witch-sister from hell, but all is well that ends well, if one can vaguely accept reality.

Star Surge written and directed by David Simpatico with Choreography by Cedric James presented a competitive television talent show gone amuck: Ory Lopex, the lead dancer fires his dancing mate, Molly (Kirsten Greene), and housemate lover just before the show dawns and secretly hires a younger dancer, Deedee (Rachael Prongay), whom he has been secretly seeing. Their comic dance with Ory prancing and preening his waggish mug, and the girls alternately pretzel dancing and fist-fighting leaves Ory down-and-out on the floor, however, they scandalously win first prize with enthusiastic, sub-culture lust. The choreography is a hoot and a howl!

The Art Machine written by Paul Allman, directed by David Simpatico, and performed by Norm Magnusson presents an award-winning art lecture by a painter who is perhaps the most successful narcissist in the world, and who backpacks the rambling magical land of idiocy with trenchant and maudlin sincerity accompanied by the iconic relic gimmick of a peanut butter sandwich. (There is much comic truth here.)

Last but not least, Yalu River (the longest play), written and directed by Nan Gatewood Satter depicted two upper-class snob-traveler braggarts (Dean Temple and Molly Parker Myers) changing planes at an airport while snootily bitching at all their past terrified adventure-traveling mates and lovers as their fencing duel of rugged toughness and insouciant obliviousness becomes the language of wounding insult and masochistic, romantic flirting. Katrinas Lantz played with panache the comic, autistic airline announcer who had no filter with the voice of a satiric siren.

This was a night of superb acting produced by Darah Cloud and David Simpatico. This production deserves to run for two months, but, alas, the curtain will come down on Sunday afternoon. If you need to have many good laughs for two hours that continues in memory, contact the Center for tickets at:

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books