St. Nick may be on his way, but Murphy’s Law seemed to have gotten there first.
“Everything that could go wrong before the show did,” Jim Harris, writer of the Mt. Airy Home Companion Holiday Show, said about Saturday night’s performance.
The alarm inside Allens Lane Art Center, where the show was performed, was tripped, someone fell backstage, a sound man became “violently ill” at the last second, and a computer crashed, wiping out all of the show’s digital sound effects.
It was a testament to the performers and the 14-year-old stage manager, Masterman High School freshman Phineas Shapiro, that the sold-out audience had a great time anyway.
“In the end, it was a lot of fun,” Harris said after the performance, which described Mt. Airy as the place where all the women are strong, all the men are sensitive, and all the children have hyphenated names.
The show’s start was delayed by the intransigent computer, but nobody minded while Harris led everyone in a sing-a-long to “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and “Jingle Bells.”
“In case you’re wondering, this is not Broadway,” quipped Harris. “It’s off-off Broadway. Way off.”
Public radio jokes and a new spin on Scrooge
When the radio-style comedy show finally got underway, actors Elizabeth Caruso, Andrew Criss, Loretta Lucy Miller and Andy Pettit launched a running spoof of a certain radio station, here called WMTA. They skewered supporter announcements, local weather reports, consumer tips and news.
News items included stories about the discovery of skeletons left over from the Lincoln Drive traffic jams of 2002, a police breakup of a Philadelphia Folksong Society party due to complaints of “yodeling and the smell of hummus,” and a move by certain legislators to have a sandwich “narrowly defined as the union between two pieces of white bread.”
Later, Walk a Crooked Mile Books proprietor Greg Williams, playing legendary philanthropist St. Nicholas in a luxuriant bishop’s robe, joined a five-member elementary-school choir from Germantown Friends School.
The show also included the world premiere of a “Mt. Airy Christmas Carol,” in radio-play style.
The lyrics told the tale of a local, modern-day Scrooge, who once flipped a piece of real estate with his surfer pal Gnarly, with dreams of making enough to get a house on the beach. But as time went on and profits piled up, Scrooge devoted his life to the business and forgot his California dreams. That is, until Gnarly returns from the dead on Christmas Eve.
Scrooge then goes back in time to tour a childhood baseball game on the grounds of a property now in the ruthless grip of his firm. The Ghost of Mt. Airy Past wears a hemp shirt, corduroy vest and Birkenstocks. Also, as it turns out, the garb of the Ghost of Mt. Airy Present.
Scrooge visits employee Bob Snatchit, who has no car or security system for his house. Snatchit’s son, Micro Mike (played with relish by Harris’s son Que Smith) has a terrible disease called Autolingosis wherein he can only speak in phrases found on Mt. Airy bumper stickers, such as “I’d rather be sailing,” “Eat Fresh, Buy Local” and “Love turkeys, don’t eat them.”
Scrooge is shaken to the core when the Ghost of Mt. Airy Future shows Bob Snatchit’s visit to the asylum, where Micro Mike has been taken after storming a speech from the governor with the words “Frack Corbett.”A new man, Scrooge goes to the Weavers Way Co-op, conveniently open on Christmas morning, for spicy pickles and a Tofurky to share with the Snatchits.
In between some holiday carols by Saint Mad, sound engineer Jake Michael threw in a few soulful tunes on his jarana, a small guitar-like instrument for Veracruz-style mariachi.
The performers were also joined by Michael LeRoy, the “Hanukah Jewgler,” for a juggling and plate-spinning routine with the help of Smith.
Harris drew the evening to a close, keeping the audience in stitches, with a monologue about a childhood trip to a Christmas-season department store, when his mother refused to buy him the dollhouse he dearly wanted.Harris wished the crowd happy holidays, and announced plans for a new Mt. Airy Home Companion show in the spring.
Despite all the technical problems (leading to the use of impromptu live sound effects), a crowd of about a hundred people heartily enjoyed the show.
Harris said he was pleased with the overall outcome, though, he noted, he still has yet to receive that dollhouse.