Ricki Mason has been developing her alter-ego, Lou Henry Hoover, for several years and in several different situations, but with her newest work, There Once Was a Man, at the ReBar June 20-21, she’s opened up yet another set of possibilities for the character. In this latest version Hoover is both an amiable everyman, with a jaunty walk and a cheerful disposition, and the ambiguous center of everyone’s attention. He’s the intersection of a busy Venn Diagram, including a curvaceous wife, a Southern Gothic mother-in-law, a set of conjoined twins (attached at the braid), a gymnastic baby, and, shades of Gregor Samsa, a cockroach. Except for the cockroach, their costumes are all printed with Hoover’s face—he is indeed everywhere.
In the past, Mason has drawn from multiple sources in creating the settings and scripts for Hoover’s adventures, the stranger the better, so that they often resembled a dada version of a vaudeville act. The narrative for Man rests in a slightly more conventional place, so that the meddling mother-in-law and her desire for grandchildren triggers a series of possible worlds with the cranky twins and the rambunctious baby, but among these scenes of mid-century domestic drama are still some oddball elements.
Chief among these is the cockroach, which acts as Hoover’s doppelganger through most of the show. Although the rest of the cast treats him with disgust, Hoover is fascinated as well as repelled, and the roach returns the interest, often following him like a puppy. Elby Brosch, who dances the part, matches Hoover’s light and deft style, especially in an extended soft shoe duet. By the end of the evening, Brosch has managed a difficult trick—we feel sympathy for the loyal roach.
The rest of the cast is equally skilled – Kitten LaRue was like a juicy peach as the wife, all curves and curls and drop-dead timing. Scott Shoemaker’s mother-in-law places his performance just this side of caricature—he’s Ethel Merman as Tennessee William’s Amanda Wingfield. His tongue is firmly in his cheek during his monologue considering what secret Hoover might be keeping about himself—homosexuality would be difficult, but vegetarianism would be far worse. Neu Ro Ses and Bronwyn Lewis played the twins like a pouting version of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, while Cassidy Katims’ Baby swung from the ceiling on his umbilical cord.
There Once Was a Man gets its title from the song in The Pajama Game where the factory supervisor declares his love for the union rep—after a musical comedy-full of setbacks the two live happily ever after, and at the end of Hoover’s work, so do Kitten and Lou. The mother-in-law delivers the epilogue from heaven, admitting that although they never did have children, they did what they wanted to do. She proclaims that “Lou was a good man,” and as we watch Kitten and Lou, both with gray hair, swaying together, we agree with Mama.
More information about Lou Henry Hoover can be found here.