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Whidbey Follies target ferries, late mayor
Although he lives 300 miles away, writer David Howell tapped into the day-to-day frustrations of islanders in last weekend’s production of “Whidbey Follies.”
The occasional fundraiser has poked fun at current events over the years, and Howell looked to the ferry system for this year’s satirical ammunition.
“It was based pretty loosely on the ferry issue. There wasn’t a lot of meat in the matter,” producer Sue Riney said.
The play opened with a handful of “Keystone cops” who abandoned their plans to fix the ferry system after receiving a call from a Hollywood producer.
“Who do we call now?” one man griped.
A cop replied, “I don’t know. Call the Vatican!”
Howell, who penned scripts for the first five years of Whidbey Follies before moving to Oregon in 1993, layered jokes from previous Follies. Before and during vignettes, the crew played video clips of original skits and music.
This event celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first “Whidbey Follies” in 1989, and Howell, and wife Pat, commuted from Oregon to direct the show.
Riney said most jokes were aimed at Coupeville, as the event was held at the Coupeville High School Performing Arts Center.
The Vatican reference was based on an actual Coupeville church, St. Mary’s, which caused an uproar when it decided to use vinyl siding. In an early script, Howell created a group of nuns, “The Sisters of Perpetual Maintenance,” with a holy mission to stop them.
Many of these original actors, and characters, returned. One notable, real-life character was former Mayor Ed Stromberg, now deceased.
Howell took time to vent at Stromberg, who was an early opponent of Whidbey Follies. He lived across the street from the original outdoor performances, and was aggravated by the noise. Besides cutting wood with a chainsaw and lining the street with no parking signs during the show, he also lit a massive fire in his front yard to try to smoke out the concert.
With Stomberg now gone, Howell wrote a lighthearted interpretation of his judgement day.
John Tristao, who played Stromberg, sang, “If I was a Nice Man,” to the tune of “If I were a Rich Man” from the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” after a group of angels called him an unpleasant name. Eventually, Stromberg repented and was given his wings. He was asked to take Elvis’ place in Heaven’s rock and roll band.
“It’s usually a sin to speak ill of the dead, but they handled it well,” audience member Frank Tippets said.
The Shifty Sailors, a local sea shanty group, angrily sang, “Ballad of the Merry Ferry,” which joked at catching a cold from long wait times at Keystone.
The play eventually turned to finding a ferry replacement. Whidbey Island’s ferry snafu began in late 2007, when it was announced there were no immediate replacement craft for the worn-out 80-year-old vessels.
The Sisters of Perpetual Maintenance and Shifty Sailors brainstormed building a bridge and leasing an airplane before deciding, “We need a big boat.”
They dragged a prop replica of the Queen Elizabeth II oceanliner onstage, and renamed it “WSF MM Haugen,” a reference to State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen. She is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
The cast sang a farewell song, inviting the audience to approach the stage and sing. Howell was congratulated with hugs from his cast and crew.
While the event aims at poking fun at island life, Riney said it’s not out of spite.
“I think it’s about appreciating life on Whidbey. We’re more close to these issues because of our community and geographical closeness,” Riney said.
She added that any follow-up performance next year will depend on another hot news topic.
Proceeds from the event will be shared between Concerts on the Cove and the Whidbey Playhouse.