Photograph by Eric Chazankin
God, Satan and 'Mrs. Jones'—a rock 'n' roll fantasy
By David Templeton
God arrives first, then the Devil. It's just like in the Bible, only in this case it happens in Santa Rosa, and God and the Devil are actually actors Michael Van Why and Keith Baker, stars of Sixth Street Playhouse's upcoming rock-musical The Possession of Mrs. Jones. Van Why plays God, Baker plays the Devil, and to start this prerehearsal conversation, they take turns attempting to explain the play's outrageous plot.
"The play is set in the 1950s," Van Why begins, "where there's this major corporation called Product-O-Matic—"
"Ding!" Baker says.
"Right, thanks," Van Why replies, continuing. "The company has bought up the entire universe and has just fired both God and Satan from their jobs. But there's this clause in our contract which says that if we can convince a housewife with the initials E.J., who resides at 1624 Utopia Way, to kill the president of Product-O-Matic—"
"Ding!" Baker repeats.
"—then we can get our jobs back, or at least get our golden parachutes and retain our membership in the executive lounge at the airport."
"So," Baker says, taking up the story, "we emerge from Evelyn Jones' washing machine, which of course was made by Product-O-Matic—"
"Ding!" Van Why says.
"—and we attempt to convince her to kill the president. When she refuses, we possess her children, Judith and Richard."
"I possess Judith, a 13-year-old girl," Van Way explains, "and Satan possesses Richard, a 16-year-old boy, who ends up being homosexual, but that's another story."
"No one knows that the children have been possessed by God and the Devil, except for Mrs. Jones, who has to decide whether she's willing to actually murder the president of Product-O-Matic—"
"—in order to save her children. That's how we end up wrecking havoc on her little suburban life."
"And God—the all-loving, good God of the universe—discovers that he has a really bad side that he wants to explore, after he's taken over the body of this teenage girl. It begins when he says 'fuck' out loud, and then he realizes he likes it so much, it snowballs and snowballs to where he ends up robbing a Tupperware party at gunpoint so he can get money for an abortion."
"This play, as you can see," Van Why adds, "is basically just plain wrong. It's wrong in so many delicious ways. And whenever someone says 'Product-O-Matic,' we all stop and say:"
"Ding! And it's all done with song and dance," Baker explains.
The show, written and composed by D'Arcy Drollinger, with additional music by Ted Hamer, premiered a few years ago at Los Angeles' Zephyr Theater, with Baker creating the role of the Devil. It was Baker's suggestion that Sixth Street give the show, which played to sell-out audiences in L.A. and ended up with a long extended run, its Bay Area premiere.
Directed by Nancy Prebilich, with musical direction by Justin Pyne, the play opens this weekend, with a cast of Sixth Street stalwarts, including Allison Marcom as Mrs. Jones and Mark Bradbury as Mr. Jones, both the veterans of numerous musicals. Van Why, who caused a stir two years ago in the role of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, is a trained opera singer, and for Baker, better known locally for his dramatic, nonsinging roles in shows like the Rep's Three Musketeers, will be showing locals that he also has singing chops.
"What's really exciting about this show, as a new play that no one will have ever seen before, is that it really has great songs," Baker says. "We'll have a rock band onstage with us. After God discovers his naughty side and sings the song, 'I Just Wanna Be Bad,' the Devil, who's spent centuries setting people on fire, ends up getting in touch with his good, kind, sweet side, which is described in my big, gorgeous song-and-dance number 'Satanic Love Child.' Like Michael said, this show is wrong in so many ways—and that, we hope, will be the big attraction."
"That," Van Why adds, "and getting to hear us say a whole lot of 'Product-O-Matic!"
'The Possession of Mrs. Jones' runs Thursday–Sunday, Nov. 13 to Dec. 6, at the Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Saturday–Sunday at 2pm. $15–$35. 707.523.4185.
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