The look of love

Here it is: The night of your big date with that cute girl from the Qwik-E Mart, and you’re still searching for a suitable activity with which to wooing your convenience-store angel. To make matters worse, it’s cupid season and you don’t know anything about your portential paramour except that she’s adorned her car with a bumper sticker announcing, “I My Cat” — which gives no clue as to her romantic proclivities. (At least, you hope.)

Would she enjoy an evening of musical theater? Jazz? Modern dance? Uilleann bagpiping? Well, whatever your respective tastes in entertainment, you’re sure to find something that suits both your fancies in Heron Productions’ For the Love of Marge and Waller: A Valentine.

Featuring more than 35 local artists — ranging from a Celtic fiddler to a professional puppeteer — this valentine-flavored variety show really does seem to offer something for everyone. It’s also exactly the kind of gala that the show’s producer, Debra Roberts, says her late parents, Marge and Waller, would have loved: “This show, this group of artists, would have been an extreme pleasure to them.”

Roberts reminisces about the way her folks raised her, explaining why she chose to pay tribute to them by putting together this theatrical valentine.

“They were really fun people, always taking us to musicals and plays and encouraging us to explore our creativity. I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud that I didn’t learn how to do laundry until I was in college. But I did know how to direct a play, perform in a musical and do all kinds of other artistic things by the time I was 18.

“This show is my way of thanking my parents for showing me that side of life.”

It’s also a way for Roberts, the other artists involved (all of whom donated their time for the production) and the audience to contribute to another of Roberts’ ventures, Little Pearls. The Asheville-based nonprofit video, film and production company seeks to improve the quality of local television by creating public-service announcements that feature inspiring people and heartening messages from Western North Carolina. Proceeds from For the Love of Marge and Waller will go toward buying airtime for Little Pearls spots on local stations.

“You know, if you watch TV, you’re constantly bombarded with Taco Bell ads and clever marketing for all this stuff you just don’t need. What we do with Little Pearls is offer a hiatus from all of that. Instead of seeing tacos or Nikes or whatever for that 30-or 60-second ad break, you’ll see one of your neighbors or someone else you might admire doing something uplifting,” explains the producer.

If you haven’t caught Little Pearls’ work on the tube yet, you’ll have a chance to preview some of their upcoming PSAs at the show.

“We’ll have a monitor in the lobby during intermission where people can see what they’re contributing to,” explains Roberts.

Don’t let the production’s charitable intentions and bittersweet underpinnings fool you into expecting something dreaily serious, however. The show is all about entertainment — and romance.

“Every act relates to love in some way,” says Roberts — but that doesn’t mean you’ll see the act of love on the Diana Wortham stage, insinuated or otherwise. “It’s totally appropriate for all ages,” she assures parents. “You can bring your kids — and your parents — to this and not feel uncomfortable about it.”

Roberts’ promise of good, clean fun confirms the feeling you get looking at the show’s publicity shot. It’s a sweet, nostalgic black-and-white photo of Marge and Waller on their wedding day, both sporting blissful smiles and the kind of clothes the Ricardos might have donned for a night out at the club. And, at Marge and Waller, you can expect at least some of the same kind of entertainment Lucy and Ricky regularly enjoyed at the Tropicana. Roberts says the wackiest act is probably a 1950s Brazilian samba piece she and local African-dance artist Kelly Davis put together.

“It’s hilarious,” she says, laughing.

She’s also enthusiastic — and mysterious — about what the show’s poster bills as a “surprise opening” by Weaverville puppeteer Hobey Ford. Roberts and Ford are both tight-lipped about what will make the not-very-secret act a surprise. They’ll only hint at “an amazing creature that anyone would love to see” (one of Ford’s handmade puppets) and an appearance by Ford’s teenage daughter, Lauren, who leaves for Boston’s Emerson College in the fall.

“For more than that, you’ll just have to see the show,” says Roberts coyly.

For her, putting together this project was a labor of love in the truest sense. The show opens on Feb. 16 — the first-year anniversary of Marge’s death from breast cancer.

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