Known by comedy, theater, and LGBT benefit audiences –– from our town to Provincetown –– for her profane Molly “Equality” Dykeman character, Andrea Alton added another potent creation to her satirical arsenal last month, when “Possum Creek” made its debut at FringeNYC. Written and performed by Alton and directed by Eric Chase, it was an unexpected and welcome change of pace (literally!) for Alton, whose sunny but dim Beth Ann is every bit as meek as Molly is brash — and just as much a product of her time.
Set in Possum Creek, Ohio from the outset of the Civil War to more than 30 years later, the eight-character solo show begins as Beth Ann’s husband goes directly from the altar to the Union Army, vowing to return and consummate their marriage.
Andrea Alton’s Fringe hit extends its run and her range
What follows is a series of beautifully crafted comedic misunderstandings, as the beyond-naïve virgin bride escapes to the relative privacy of an outhouse, where she composes letters to her absent Joseph (“I hope that you are enjoying the war,” she writes, in an early missive that nails her kind but clueless world view). Joseph’s failure to reply to a single letter doesn’t deter Beth Ann from penning thousands of them, full of wildly misinterpreted observations about the goings-on in her small rural town.
Through the years, Beth Ann’s chipper disposition insulates her from life’s grim realities — although her inability to grasp the basic concepts of agriculture, reproduction, and the Underground Railroad tests the patience of the entire town. Oddly, the good citizens of Possum Creek never give in to temptation and yell at her, even when she’s playing a decisive role in the devastating waves of disease and starvation (Alton seems to imply that people were just more polite and decent back then, even when it was to their own detriment).
Garbed in the same cartoonish, ballooning hoop dress throughout, Alton slips in and out of flawed characters (brimstone preacher, closeted neighbor, crackpot doctor) while playing Beth Ann with a level of sincerity that grounds the punchlines and slapstick in a sober, often sad reality. In a further triumph of tone, the events unfold in a style that mocks the hushed, plodding school of storytelling employed by Ken Burns — making “Possum Creek” a sweet and subversive Civil War satire that creates its own revolutionary blend of sex, race, heart, and hope.