What they say it is:
Remember the old-timey plant cabarets that your grandmama and granddaddy used to go to on a Saturday night? Well, take a stroll down memory lane at the Eatin-Good Family Plant Cabaret, hosted by Jebediah Eatin-Good himself! Flowers, weeds, and vegetables take center stage to share traditional plant cabaret favorites including bluegrass, cowboy songs, country music, and the occasional torch song. In Bitter Homes and Gardens, The Bearded Ladies take us back to our roots in this outdoor cabaret that asks: if plants had voices, what would they sing?
With a lightly scheduled weekend ahead of us (something of a rarity in the middle of summer), I sought out this listing via Citypaper’s typically useless events calendar (i.e. too many items to sort and digest). I’d never visited the pop up beer garden, so the combination of a pay-what-you-wish event and outdoor drinks on a warm Friday night seemed too good to pass up. Tara agreed, we donated $15 for our tickets, and a plan was made.
The organization of the pop-up garden’s seating staff was a bit off; as showtime approached, I watched multiple people wander aimlessly around the reserved benches and chairs, obviously confused as to their own assigned spot or where they were supposed to plant their butts. The drinks were great though, and once the show began, there was nothing but good happening at this event.
I’d worried that the flexible pricing model was telegraphing a weakly constructed show; instead, BBH&G was truly awesome fun. The props and (some) costumes were obviously low-budget, but the players fully owned it, playing up the cheesiness and fully embracing a DIY ethos reminiscent of cornball Muppet Show humor. The storyline of the show, such as it was, mostly revolved around a yokel stalk of corn railing against the evils of GMOs, but the performances often veered off into tangential scenes, including a scene regarding legalized marijuana, and running gags about Faith Hill’s all-natural lifestyle (the singer’s doppelganger eventually made an appearance in the final act). Though it might sound pretty confusing on paper, the show was awesome—extremely funny, quickly paced, and quite well sung. Virtually all of many scenes included a musical number, and the choral strength of the players was outstanding. I’m not even someone who specifically loves big-sing moments in my staged art, but these people were nailing classic country harmonies like it was their job–and I was genuinely moved.
Moreover, the dialog and delivery of all players was consistently hilarious. If I were forced to pick an MVP, it was clearly the show’s anchor, Mary Tuomanen as Jebediah Eatin’good (i.e. a walkin’ talkin’ stalk of sassy field corn) but I can say with honesty that there wasn’t a weak link in this cast. Every player carried their scenes, and the dialog was zany and outlandish without ever slipping into the all-too-common brainlessness of amateur theater. Bad puns abounding, this was a raucously self-indulgent style of humor that worked better than I could have ever expected.
In spite of an obviously shoestring budget, the cast’s costumes were also pretty amazing, and worth a quick mention in themselves. The giant talking stalk of cobbed corn and the stilt-walking tree especially stood out from the crowd. I was somewhat confused by the recurring characters of two mentally-handicapped scouts (not to mention worried that their portrayal might be a wee bit offensive), but for the most part, the characters and the costumes provoked genuine LOL moments, so I managed to ignore whatever lingering questions these elements raised for me.
The troupe behind this show calls itself the Bearded Ladies (beardedladiescabaret.com), and, after catching Bitter Homes & Gardens, I’m marking them down as a group of players to watch, without a doubt.
What to say when Clay has made so many astute and amazing observations . . . ?
I enjoyed myself during this production. I enjoyed every corny (ha!) joke and pun. The cast mingled with the audience prior to the production which was fun and gave me an opportunity to see their costuming up close. I specifically appreciated the vaudevillian nature of the production — a mixture of comedy, dance and song. A favorite scene of mine was the costumed seedling that sprouted (acting out a time-lapse of growth) before the audience’s eyes. I also liked the way the plants felt slightly threatening nature toward the human audience; because we are destroying them and their habitats, we, the humans, are framed as the evil-doers.
One area that needed improvement was the seating arrangement for this show. I arrived early and the layout of chairs, audience tickets, and seating had not been established at that time, and the situation continued to . . . ‘evolve’ . . . right up to the beginning of the show. This wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was an element of the show that could have been more organized. I have to admit, I did receive a bit of guilty pleasure from watching the seat assignment process and witnessing how they then reacted to their seat assignment, because not all seats were equal for this show. Another quibble would be that, at times, this production could have benefited from a better audio system which would have given us a better opportunity to really hear the amazing singing and many funny lines.
In conclusion, I would recommend this production and troupe to our readers. In fact, we were lucky enough to enjoy part of the evening with friends who just happened to come in and check out the pop-up beer garden and were surprised with a show!
Thanks to the bearded ladies for bringing the small-town feel to Philadelphia!