What would result from a heady cocktail of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Rocky Horror, and the TV show Laugh-In, most definitely not gently stirred? Answer is this play, Drinking Habits. This hilarious farce, currently being produced in Ingram by the Hill Country Arts Foundation, is actually worth the 2-hr drive from Austin.
If you type ‘drinking habits’ into Google, one of the top sites to appear is about the different types of drinking habits to avoid. This play by Tom Smith is not one of them. He won the 2004 Robert Pickering Award for excellence in playwriting, a factoid that actually features in the play, which must have been slightly rewritten after the win.
The play centres on a young woman and guy, both newspaper reporters. For her intrepid reporting on a story that actually took her away from her own wedding (he was left at the altar), Sally (played by Vivian Wellborn) won the Pickering Award! This remains a sore point between Sally and Paul (played by Treston Mack), who still wants to marry her.
Their job here is to track down the big-money winner of a wine contest, which leads them to the local nunnery. Yes, the ‘habits’ of the play title are actually the habits worn by nuns, who are secretly making wine to support the convent. The only one who doesn’t know is Mother Superior, who can’t bear to hear the word ‘wine,’ so the other two nuns who inhabit (pun) the place have to be creative. Wine is Lucifer’s Libation, or Satan’s Mouthwash!
I can’t go much further with the plot without giving things away, but costume speaks volumes here. Paul goes undercover, so to speak, variously donning the garb of a priest, a nun, and a cardinal (as shown in the lead photo). Every good farce has a central point, and in this one we have Mother Superior, played by Shari Goddard. While she does get flustered and befuddled, all the action revolves around her reactions and decisions. Goddard does a superb job at this, holding the reins on the centrifugal forces that constantly threaten to tear the plot apart.
The set (design by Jeff Cunningham) has five doors, which are used as entry and escape pods for a whirlwind of activity of the eight actors here. Thus, my Laugh-In reference, as the opening and slamming of doors becomes a constant throughout the play. In one scene where two characters are caught kissing, each one of the cast exclaims a name to another, a direct takeoff on a scene in Rocky Horror, where we hear the names Janet, Brad, Rocky, etc. over and over. It’s a riot.
The two sisters who secretly make the wine are played by Joan Bryson and Terri Conatore. Their acting is so good here one immediately enters into the conspiracy with them, much as we all warm to the Mother Superior and her travails at keeping this tiny convent open. The travails of conspiracy actually provide the overarching concept of the play, which brings in Father Chenille (Jason Rittmann), Sister Mary Catherine (Maren Ellis), and the gardener George (Colton VanFossen).
The extraordinary web of lies, and a series of one-liners (I can’t believe I fell asleep in my oatmeal, says one nun), keep the pace of this play on rapid for most of the time.
Tight acting from this ensemble, combined with a truly funny script, made this one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the theatre in quite a while.
Director Dan Kirkland, a native of Kerrville, told me he “did theatre here in the 90s, came back in 2001 to do another show with them, and got the job as Director a couple years ago.” Of Drinking Habits, he said “it was fun to direct something so funny right after the pandemic, bringing laughter to everyone. It’s really hilarious, that’s why we chose it.” The theatre community in the area is very vibrant, with multiple productions in various stages of development all the time. Kirkland talked about the challenges of finding enough talent, which is all local.
“When you have 30 people in Matilda, 10 people in Rumors, and 8 people in here it’s hard to find people sometimes. We have a big pool of talent to draw from but we work closely with the Cailloux Theatre in Kerrville. They also just closed a musical; Playhouse 2000 is their theatre name. There’s a lot of culture in this area – not as much as Austin but a lot! The big Texas Arts & Crafts Fair is here in September, with artists from all over Texas.”
There is also a large recreation of Stonehenge in Ingram, right where the theatre is located. On the weekend I visited, the Scottish Highland Games were underway. They are planning on a Robbie Burns Dinner next January. Support them by becoming a member. Write Scots of the Texas Hill Country, PO Box 293282, Kerrville, TX 78029-3282.
Drinking Habits is on stage until May 15, 2022. Next up is Neil Simon’s Rumors.
Visit the website for details: http://www.hcaf.com/2022-theatre-season/