Mt. Airy Home Companion heads to West Philly for Fringe

 (L to R) Martha Michael, Jim Harris, Lynda Chen, Molly Mahoney and Ed Feldman. (Photo courtesy of Gary Reed)

(L to R) Martha Michael, Jim Harris, Lynda Chen, Molly Mahoney and Ed Feldman. (Photo courtesy of Gary Reed)

When G-town Radio Morning Feed host Ed Feldman came down from Northwest Philadelphia to 40th and Walnut as the special guest star in the latest “Mt. Airy Home Companion” show, he noticed one thing very quickly.

 

“Apparently, hot pants are back. You would never know it in Germantown,” the concerned citizen says, speaking with NewsWorks before Thursday night’s performance at the Rotunda. “They’re obscenity. You know it when you see it.”

But the show’s writer and creator, Mt. Airy native Jim Harris, told NewsWorks a week before the opening that he wanted to bring the latest “Companion” to West Philly because of the similarities the neighborhood has to the Northwest.

“What other neighborhood in Philadelphia is like Mt. Airy?” wondered Harris and the co-creators — writers Martha Michael and Jake Michael and the Saint Mad band.

“We said West Philly, because it’s got a lot of trees and a lot of bohemian kind of people and artists.”

Harris has performed at the Rotunda before and loves the venue, so that sealed the deal for the crew to bring “Companion” out of the Northwest as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

The group has wanted to build a bigger audience, so Harris said the Fringe, with its built-in citywide marketing platform, “seemed like a natural way to go.”

It’s his fifth “Companion” show. The series was launched a few years ago as a spoof of local public radio programs and lifestyles in the Northwest. (In 2013, Harris was speedy to explain that the show is meant to “pay tribute” to WHYY, not make fun of it.)

The Fringe show, starring Harris and running at the Rotunda on Sept. 18 and 19, also welcomes cast members Jake Michaels, Greg Williams, and Elizabeth Caruso back from previous shows, as well as Saint Mad band leader Molly Mahoney, with musicians Martha Michael, Lynda Chen, Richard Redding, and Carla Mariani. Audrey Bookspan provides percussion using everything from her own tap shoes to drums and cymbals to tambourines and castanets.

New to the show and adding some very sweet voices are West Chester resident Marie Steel, playing an anarchist named Moonbeam O’Brian-Abramowitz, and recent Chestnut Hill College graduate Bryan Mottershead playing her co-op employee rival, Henri LaMerde.

Feldman plays himself. And Satan.

The show has plenty of satirical new songs set to a variety of classic tunes, including Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.”

The format is bit different from past shows, which involved various small radio-play style skits. This one offers a sustained narrative, opening with fictional public station WMTA Radio’s coverage of Weavers Way Co-op, “which has erupted into a riot.”

An extremist fringe of co-op employees have gone on strike and barricaded themselves into the store.

Weavers Way has become much too commercialized, they say. They demand organic vegan lasagna made only with gluten-free rice grown in an ashram.

It all leads to the opening of a new “ultra-organic and hyper-vegan” co-op, Holy Wholer Foods, in Mt. Airy.

Ekaterina Patootski (Caruso) interviews hopeful employees skilled in the ancient art of bagging groceries.

Those who stop by include none other than Pope Francis (Jake Michael), who happens to love latkes with baked apples, Satan (Feldman), who’s “trying to retool the whole evil thing” since Bill Clinton started showing up to every disaster with blankets and orange juice, and God himself (Williams), in a bathrobe and a red, white, and blue sombrero.

The story doesn’t have a sad ending, thanks to the time-traveling robot Kronos 3000.

The Saint Mad band’s “Mt. Airy Home Companion” has its closing performance at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, on Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit the show’s Fringe Festival site or call 215-413-1318.

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