So you pit rich weekenders against locals against landed gentry going back four centuries; divorcees against married women; dainty bitches against one another and also against the mostly macho maiden who cleans your house, serves your drinks and even so isn’t Mexican. What have you got? Why, it’s a reality TV show about real women from Columbia County, New York. In the hands of clever wordsmith Carl Ritchie you also have a blast.
In his new musical at The Lighthouse Marina Dinner Theater in Craryville, New York (on Copake Lake) five women, one piano player, a lighting man and a dresser are out to prove "Country Life’s a Bitch." Through September 3 the Taconic Stage Company is presenting this latest in a series of new reviews by Ritchie that explore aspects of life we might not be thinking about on our own.
Thankfully, for the most part, country life may be something to bitch about but that’s the musical extent of it. Ritchie’s songs are clever, funny, occasionally touching - I could have used a bit more of that - and speed by like a night train to Georgia. They touch on clothing, shopping, sex, class distinction, husbands, boyfriends, husband’s boyfriends, or girlfriends, stockbrokers, facebook friends, drinking, cidiots (that’s idiots from the city), menopause, cougars and many other topics as well. Clever, as noted, and with an occasional rhyme that keys the song into your brain. Still, as much fun as they are, they are not take-home-tunes, songs you will be singing on your own in your car for a while, but only for a while.
The cast consists of Meg Dooley as Melody, a rich weekender whose cute centuries old farmhouse has been razed to build a mega-mansion, Cathy Lee-Visscher as Katrina who cannot let go of the old Dutch relevance to the community, Constance Lopez as Carol, also rich, but also divorced and "hungry," Diedre Bollinger as Danny whose capabilities and local history make her the perfect foil for the rich women, and Rachel Weisman as Rebecca, a well-to-do quasi-local whose husband left her for another man. Dressed by the excellent Joanne Maurer these are women you cannot mix up or get confused. Their looks and their garb define them.
Weisman is the last to be introduced and her character adds a final flip side to the everyone else except Danny. She is the bright light that shines on her sisters and brings out the harsher realities of their lives. From her first entrance, at about 30 minutes into the first act, her quiet demeanor turns the already amusing Melody into the grandiose witch she truly is in relation to other women. Weisman’s soft-sell performance allows the others to get into high-gear and it’s a lovely contrast.
Dooley’s role is showy and showier. She never flags as Melody, even when caught in the same expensive cocktail dress as other women. Her use of the imperious tone and her self-assurance work wonderfully. Her character is a woman who cannot be bettered by others, a woman who cannot be self-improved. No loss is a set-back and Dooley’s demeanor is superb. She has this character in the palm of her hand and slowly opens her fingers to reveal it.
Lopez is delightful as the slightly more exotic woman of the group. Like Dooley she has captured her character and holds her fast. The show is never funnier than when the two of them are doing a scene or song together; we can feel the inner tension and the outward admiration. Lopez communicates better in this role than in many others in which I’ve seen her.
Lee-Visscher is the comic delight of this show playing a woman who can almost never see how awful others are being toward her. She does this with a smile and an open heart and with an honest sense of how important it is to have history in the place you inhabit. You just want to reach out and hug her for being who and what she is in this show. Cheering her on is all she asks and so cheer is what you do.
Bollinger’s character is more ambiguous. Working class and vigorous, dependable and strong, you know from her first entrance that this is a woman who can accomplish things. As she gets in her sly digs Bollinger also lets us feel her pain and her joy at knowing that she will never be confused with the lesser individuals she serves. Her final transition in this show is both a remarkable and longed-for result and the thrill of it is just what the show needs at that point.
At just over two hours with an intermission, the show is fun. Fun is a good thing. The talent in its creators is evident and the talent in its interpreters is apparent. In a dinner theater setting, with a pleasant dinner served up beforehand and desserts at intermission, the evening is a complete experience at $40 with an additional cash bar at hand.
If the TV show "Desperate Housewives" is your thing you will recognize these women when you see them. If those housewife reality shows are your bag you will still get a sense of the characters’ forebears. If you just know a housewife or two in the region you won’t be lost in the script; you will find that recognition the show requires. If you don’t know any of the above (not even one actual housewife) you can still have a good time at Copake Lake’s dinner theater. Just get another glass of something and sit back and be amused.
The Real (Desperate) Housewives of Columbia County Musical plays weekends through September 3 at The Lighthouse Marina, 351 Lakeview, Craryville, NY. For information or tickets call 518-325-1234.