Play: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Hostel”
Group: OnSite Theatre Company
Venue: Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel, 1908 South 12th Street
Dates: Run concluded
Story: Welcome to the Huckleberry Hostel in quaint, atmospheric Soulard. This ramshackle cluster of buildings is home to youths traveling through these parts to destinations unknown. The proprietor at their lodgings is Joey, aka Josephine, who prefers to go by the moniker Widow Douglas. Joey’s husband (or lover; who can be sure?) Colin hasn’t died; he simply departed about two years ago, probably after too many days coping with Joey’s manic behavior.
Joey certainly is a high-strung sort, a trait that influences all aspects of her life. Presently, she is battling with her sister, Miss Watson, who has been helping her run the hostel but is growing weary of Joey’s sundry accusations. Most recently, Joey has taken a shining to James, a visitor who has arrived with his friend Finn. Apparently James is a fugitive on the lam for some brush-up with the law, while Finn is running from his controlling and alcoholic father.
Joey wants to help them, mainly by convincing James, the “love of my life,” to stay with her, while Finn plans to take off with Emma, the hostel’s sleep-prone piano player who had a happy childhood and has been paying the price, in her mind, ever since. Emma concocts bizarre afflictions to make herself more interesting, and Finn finds himself oddly attracted to her. Meanwhile, James has eyes for Miss Watson, even though Joey thinks her evangelistic Christian sister is a lesbian. So, who’s in love with whom, and how will it all work out?
Highlights: Kudos to playwright Dan Rubin, OnSite Theatre managing director Kristen Edler and OnSite’s artistic director Ann Marie Mohr for another engaging and absolutely delightful original presentation. Rubin’s wit and imagination are the fuel behind this clever piece that presents two plays simultaneously in two different areas of the hostel.
While players are off-stage in one skit they’re performing at the other location. At intermission, an audience is transported from the first locale to the second to see what was going on there while they were at the other site. Got that?
Other Info: Rubin’s two-act comedy is a very clever and very funny homage to Mark Twain’s masterpiece, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which marked its 125th anniversary in 2009, when Rubin probably wrote his own work. In order for this farce to work best, of course, it requires precise comic timing and juicy interpretation of its five characters, and director Justin Rincker delivers both in spades. In each scene he keeps the pacing quick and the laughs on speed dial.
Ann Marie Mohr is priceless as Widow Douglas. Her antic behavior and impulsive decisions most always have disastrous results, but Widow Douglas never stops believing in herself or her eccentric ways. Jenn Bock beautifully works against Mohr’s manic tempo in a controlled, modulated manner that underscores Miss Watson’s attempt to be different from her bizarre sister.
Emily Piro is a hoot as the confused piano player, who is apt to feign sleep in the most unlikely of positions or places, and who is determined to be a tortured artist even if she has no miseries ready-made from her idyllic childhood. Antonio Rodriguez scores as the well-intentioned Finn who finds himself drawn to the edgy Emily even while he frantically ponders his next move, and Rincker, a late substitution for another actor, serves with distinction as the determined but easily confused James.
The audience at a recent performance seemed to get into the flow of this wacky show in most appreciative fashion. My guess is that Mr. Twain himself would chuckle approvingly at this slightly irreverent but very funny presentation.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.