Self-taught therapist dispenses wit, wisdom at Laguna Playhouse
Mrs. Honey Buczkowski, a self-educated life coach, seems vaguely familiar.
The motherly frame, the tone that mixes concern with a touch of moral superiority, the no-nonsense tough love approach – hey, isn't she a lot like the scary nun in the "Late Nite Catechism" franchise?
Honey and the fearsome Sister are cut from the same cloth, so to speak: they're both creations of performer-writer Maripat Donovan.
Donovan unleashed her latest creation Wednesday at the Laguna Playhouse, where she has become a popular fixture over the years.
"Ask Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach" couldn't be anything but a Donovan creation. The world-premiere performance seemed unfinished and more than a little rough around the edges, but part of the fun here is watching Donovan puzzle out the details of her new character as she creates her.
Working with her usual writing partner, Marc Silvia, who also directs, Donovan introduces Honey in a classroom setting similar to Sister's milieu. Honey, though is a civilian: a cheerful grandmother with a husband, Walter, who's now "the crankiest senior greeter in the history of Walmart."
We're at a life-coaching session, and Honey begins by explaining her approach and dispensing pearls of wisdom with the help of some balky computer graphics that she unwisely operates herself.
The core of Honey's pedagogy is her "full life flower" principle: All of your life's flower petals – money, health, career, etc. – must be at "full petal" or you will feel unbalanced. "I want you to have a full flower life," she proclaims.
The evening starts a little slowly. You get the feeling that Donovan is working from an unfinished script as she reads notes from her lectern.
But things get better when Donovan plays to her strong suit: riffing off her audience.
She brings up the topic of "boomerang" children – those kids whom parents have carefully launched on the road of life, only to come back as adults to live with mom and dad again.
One audience member admitted her 24-year-old daughter, a college grad, is back in her old bedroom. "Is her room nice? That's the first problem. Make them sleep in the garage. Sour the milk. Move the giant flat-screen TV to your bedroom," Honey advises.
"Ask Mrs. Honey B." differs from the Late Nite Catechism series in one crucial respect: Donovan is joined onstage by two other performers, Scott Bielecky and Denise Fennell, best known as the longtime stars of the off-Broadway hit, "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding." They play Frank and Angie Travertino, an Italian-American couple who are experiencing the usual marriage-fatigue problems.
Seated on a cheesy couch in Honey's office, they seem like "Sopranos" characters minus the violence.
"We met in a bar. He lit me on fire. Literally," Angie says of her first meeting with Frank.
Donovan and Silvia have come up with some clever dialogue for the Travertinos, aided by Bielecky and Fennell, who also seem at ease playing off the audience.
Angie warns us of the dangers of a Facebook-initiated affair: "These Facebook women, they're like the flying monkeys from 'The Wizard of Oz.'" Frank stares into the distance, a pained look on his face.
As Honey persuades the couple to talk about their problems, the fur flies. Whenever it does, the life coach blows a whistle and uses her favorite word: "Roadblock!" Under Honey's guidance, the Travertinos pick their way carefully through the disagreement, settling on terms and trying different tacks. It's not much different than a real therapy session.
Except, of course, that these three are skilled actors and improvisers. It's special treat to watch them, especially the gifted Donovan, answer questions from the audience in the evening's second half.
Someone asks, "Is it rude to lock your pets out of the house when you have sex?"
"Just the chickens," Angie advises. (The Travertinos' large menagerie includes a few of the birds. Presumably, she knows whereof she speaks.)
Asked what to do about a friend who's a hoarder, Honey responds, "Whenever you go over to their house just steal a few things. You'll be helping them."
Donovan and Silvia need to tighten up their friendly mess of a script and find a more rigid structure for their show, which flags frequently.
But not too much polish, please. Donovan and her fellow performers are at their best when the atmosphere stays a little fast and loose. Let Honey be Honey, and the show will be funny.
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