By Bill Branyon
Superficially, The Mountain Political Action Committee — a new work by local playwright Honor Moor — appears to be a tragedy, as it unflinchingly deals with the serious subject of hate crimes. But, by harnessing eccentric local characters whom every Ashevillean will recognize, Moor smoothly injects irresistible punchlines just when the horror begins to weigh heavy on the mind. Somehow her characters stay rib-ticklingly funny while subjects such as the scourges of McCarthyism get discussed thoroughly.
A recent reading of the play took place at 35 below, packing the venue with 40-plus folks on two afternoons. The full production will be onstage at The Magnetic Theatre starting Thursday, March 15.
The play is set just after the 2016 presidential election. A group of five Ashevilleans — all but one are Hillary supporters and Asheville natives — form a secret committee to monitor the hate crimes they believe the election of Donald Trump will unleash. Each member is uniquely positioned to hear cross sections of local scuttlebutt. They range from Andrea Caldwell (a lesbian police dispatcher) to Johnson Hendon III (a Verizon phone manager) — neither of whom is above bending privacy laws — and from Lizzie Crutchfield (a doctor’s wife gaga for gossip and animal rights) to Olson Kellyn (a political fence-sitting firefighter and who has “only” lived in Asheville since he was 2).
This cabal is presided over by Department of Social Services receptionist Velma Lytle, who is traditionally religious and has a Southern accent that turns even single words into audience laughter. Actor Delina Hensley amplifies Moor’s amusing lines by equipping Velma with outlandish enthusiasm.
Kim Richardson gives a mesmerizing performance as Andrea, including an a capella rendition of Whitney Houston’s anthem, “I Will Always Love You,” which is somehow both beautiful and humorous.
Tara Theodossis is unhinged as Lizzie the dog-loving, neglected housewife; James Vaughn is goofy as Olson, the Don Knotts-type fireman who has all kinds of homespun ways to save stray cats and whatnot; and Tim Plaut is the gracious know-it-all Verizon man. The actors infuse their characters with compassionate depth and soar to the heights of whimsical farce.
As the five Ashevilleans get together each week to report what they’ve heard about hate crime activity, they also share their own peculiar personal concerns. These include Olson’s lonely-heart ups and downs (monitored closely by Velma for any sexual transgressions), Andrea’s crazy complications with her straight family and her lover, Sweet Pea, and many other culture clashes.
And then there’s Lizzie’s semiferal dog, Persistence, who is on yet another trial-adoption stint from Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Although the hyper canine doesn’t make an appearance, she is one of the play’s comic stars. Each week, she pulls off some wacky new shenanigan recounted sobbingly by Lizzie at every meeting — including escaping to Steinmart’s bra department. The dog’s name refers to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s silencing by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Meanwhile, the frightening fires that filled Asheville with smoke for about a week and decimated a good portion of Lake Lure, form an ominous backdrop to this comedy.
The play is also a blueprint for any aspiring Asheville leftists or progressives about how to work with the many contradictions in Asheville’s Democratic Party. Moor, an Asheville native herself, is peculiarly situated to uncover these contradictions, having served, 15 years ago, as first vice chair of the Buncombe County Democratic Party. She has also been on the boards of six major Asheville community organizations.
Few can match Moor’s insider information about what makes Asheville tick, and she’s not squeamish about revealing what she’s learned.