“Top o’ The Mornin’ To Ya with Faith & Begorrah” has taken over Theatre NOW dinner theatre for most of March. Starring Penny Kohut and Heather Setzler as Irish parodies of Kathie Lee and Hoda—but with considerably more intelligence and relevance than their real-life counterparts—it shows us once again that within comedy truth is funnier than fiction.
Basically, the show is set up like a live broadcast of a morning show but with a full bar. This includes special guests and commercial breaks (dinner time!). Like any successful production, the onair staff are but a small part of what makes “Top o’ The Mornin’” successful. Their producer (Ryan P. C. Trimble) is struggling against the odds to book celebrities for the show while it is on location in Wilmington, NC. He manages to get Nicholas Sparks (Mark Deese) to come flog his latest book. Sparks insists he does not write romance novels but “love stories.” The anchors are baffled by this distinction and inquire repeatedly what the difference is. Rather than answering them honestly—the difference is about 150 pages—Deese’s rendition of Sparks launches into a lengthy diatribe. He self-congratulates literary criticism that would baffle even the best bullshitter currently editing an academic journal on an arcane topic in English literature for an audience of less than 500. I’ll give Deese this: He goes after it with all the pompous conviction that the part requires, but he is no match for the ridiculous cluelessness of his two would-be interviewers. Trimble also makes a brief appearance as a makeover specialist whose voice is frightening and work is pretty extraordinary. If you ask nicely, he might take you on as a client.
The best segment of the show comes in the form of craft time with Marfa Stu Wort (Pam Smith). Sparkly tissue paper gets handed to the audience, and then in a series of un-fathomable directions Smith produces a craft that would be absolutely impossible to make on your own. Our table gave up and opted to wear the tissue paper as hats and scarves. Just when things couldn’t get any more ridiculous Smith bursts into a rendition of “It’s a Good Thing,” a parody of “My Favorite Things.” Future audiences, be warned: Put your drink down before she starts, because you will be laughing much harder than you expect. Smith gives a performance that is so wonderfully on point for Stewart; it is my favorite role I have seen her play to date.
In addition to Faith (Kohut) and Begorrah (Setzler), Ron Hasson wanders through as their drink jockey/musician and tries to keep peace between the two divas and sing a few tunes at the same time. Kohut manages to work her favorite audience-participation song about unicorns into the script, (be afraid, be very afraid…), but Hasson’s rendition of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby)” is just lovely. It also provides a nice moment of reflection in the midst of the high-tension world of getting a live broadcast on air. Of course, there are also party games and jokes that the audience is expected to participate in; after a few drinks, the jokes get funnier, especially the one about the landlord which would make you cry if you were sober.
Kohut and Setzler as the clueless, vapid talk-show hosts are surprisingly convincing (especially since in real-life they are both smart, interesting people). They are ridiculously funny and the night is filled with great laughs from both the writing and the delivery of these two. It’s also great to get to hear Setzler sing in such an intimate space. Usually, I hear her powerhouse voice on the main stage of Thalian Hall and can sell it in a venue that size. To experience it at TheatreNOW with her less than 15 feet away will raise the hair on your arm.
Now that Kohut’s annual “Irish Wake,” which is usually hosted at TheatreNOW for St. Patrick’s Day, is over, it is pretty entertaining to watch the Irish talk show. It makes me realize just why it is that the small island has produced some of the most amazing and lyrical contributions to human communication ever.
I have to admit that since TheatreNOW opened, slowly I have become more enamored by Chef Denise Gordon’s work. Just when I think she has me irredeemably hooked, she tops herself yet again. It is hard to find vegetarian food that doesn’t taste like cardboard. So much of life of the ve-set consists of a salad on a bun with mayo. Not so if Gordon ruled the world! She can actually make the idea of veg bangers and mash not only appetizing but decadent! Perhaps it’s the red wine gravy with a hint of mustard? Or is it the creamy mashed potatoes? It would be hard to pick one, but taken together it is a masterpiece of culinary engineering.
Though all the healthy parts of the meal are wonderful and memorable, my sweet tooth is still dreaming about her chocolate pot de crème, topped with whipped cream and the most adorable little shamrock shortbread. My companion commented how the chocolate was so strong she could still taste it when she took a drink of water. Topped off with a Guinness and good company, it was a great evening all around.
Is the show high art? No, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s very Irish with lots of jokes, songs, drinking, and fun with friends. If anything, “Top o’ The Mornin’” confirmed my long-held belief that if “The Today Show” were a late-night broadcast with a full bar it would actually be entertaining.
Top o’ the Mornin’ to Ya with Faith and Begorrah
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th Street
Tickets: $18, show only;
$28, includes dinner