BY BILL BRANYON
If you want to take a hilarious look at many of the major issues facing Asheville during the last 10 years, while savoring robust, quirky characters rollicking through a rip-roaring plot, go see local playwright Honor Moor’s play In the Nick of Time: Mountain Political Action Committee Meets Again! It’s currently running at the intimately professional Magnetic Theatre through November. In addition, you’ll leave the performance with that most rare of feelings these sad political days — hardnosed, but concrete, hope.
And if that isn’t enough, you’ll also get to see one of your current or former City Council members do stand-up comedy. After intermission at a recent show, City Council member Julie Mayfield hammed up lines like, “Let’s move the Vance Monument back to Vance’s home and leave it in his front yard” with the aplomb of a droll George Carlin. She even announced that the obelisk will be temporarily renamed “The Leader’s Monument,” without spending “a single penny of taxpayer money.” City Council comedians on the bill for other nights include Mayor Esther Manheimer, Council member Vijay Kapoor, plus former Council members Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith.
So many issues are covered that one might conclude the play could be politically tedious, but down-home, colorful dilemmas such as the hair problems caused by cat adoption and how to handle high-gravity beers without DWI-ing through downtown crowds break up the bigger issues with such adroit timing that the politics go down like the smoothest lobster bisque. The play gallops between superficial and profound discussion, between highbrow jokes and unibrow slapstick in the august tradition of the films Best in Show, Nashville and other devastating but sidesplitting satires.
‘A giant erection in an intersection’
The production brings back characters from Moor’s Mountain Political Action Committee (aka MoPAC), performed in 2018, in which MoPAC prevents the post-Trump-election harassment of LBGTQ people in Asheville. The plot of the current play centers on a group of local liberals who band together under the leadership of the irrepressible Velma, uproariously played with an incredibly funny Southern accent by Delina Hensley. She’s discovered that her cousin Vernon is planning to turn Asheville into what she thinks is the next Charlottesville, complete with a fascist march lit by tiki torches. So she reconvenes MoPac with hysterical results. I counted 27 gleeful guffaws from the substantial audience in just the first 20-minute scene.
Early on, Olson, a local fireman and liberal Republican — played by the handsomely macho, but sensitively thoughtful Scott Cameron — worries about why Velma called them together: “I just hope we don’t have to do anything with the Vance Monument.”
Meanwhile, Lizzie, a lonely doctor’s wife who constantly adopts wayward animals to compensate, is played by the achingly vulnerable but bravely audacious Tara Theodossis. She responds: “Promoting a slave owner in this day and age is really bad.”
Olson shoots back: “I never knew much about our former governor. I just remember going to his cabin in elementary school and making homemade candles.”
Then actor Tim Plaut, giving his character Johnson a goofy enthusiasm that often stole the show, reminisces: “I remember that, too! Candle-dipping was fun.” Andrea, a lesbian policewoman played with aggressive but sweet authority by Jennifer Memolo, drags the discussion back to reality: “He [Vance] may as well have run around in a white pointy hood.”
Lizzie: “We need a monument my children can look up to!”
Andrea: “And one that isn’t shaped like a penis. It’s a giant erection in an intersection located at ground zero for our community!”
Olson: “I don’t know, everyone wants to erase history these days. We need to remember it, even if it’s imperfect.”
Andrea: “No one is erasing history, Olson. Many of us just don’t think we should glorify Governor Vance anymore in the middle of town with a great big phallic monument made out of stone.”
The second major scene shifts to the basement of the “Libertarian Tea Partiers,” whose goal is to abolish the Asheville City Council. Eddie, played with mesmerizing, unhinged fervor by Doug Shaw, is the most enthusiastic member and gives a convincing speech showing how untrustworthy local government is. He skewers crooked county managers, sheriffs who “refuse to uphold the law” and roads that “are parking lots … yet we fret over bike paths, and infrastructure is forgotten.” A funny discussion about giving Charlotte Street a “road diet” — reducing it from four lanes to two — ensues, whereas the group prefers a “road buffet.”
Healing wounds with buffoonery
I wish Moor had been a little more sympathetic to the Libertarian Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, she is an equal opportunity mocker. Liberals are made satirical fun of often and with a deftly wielded stiletto that made the crowd groan frequently and knowingly.
Further plot twists involve a heartwarming deus ex machina, played sagely and soothingly by Doug Shaw, combined with the infamous former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Green, sweet iced tea and Bradford pear trees.
After leaving the play, I was struck with the fact that, even with an impeachment hearing that may split America into two permanent warring camps, Moor remains somehow optimistic, at least in her play. In her introductory remarks, she claimed that both sides care about their country. Outside of the theater, she also helps administer a Facebook group called WNC Common Ground, which strives to bring differing viewpoints peacefully together.
Regardless, via In the Nick of Time, Moor has dignified and transcended our everyday, relatively small-town squabbles by microscoping them into a fast, entertaining two hours and telescoping them into a national perspective. And watching the play allows the viewer to bask in that perspective too, with an immense smorgasbord of humor thrown in for heartwarming, ironic and wise delight.
You can read excerpts from local writer Bill Branyon’s books and journalism at www.BranyonsUltimateFreethinking.com.