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March 8, 2014

REVIEW: Crowds flock to 22nd Poke Sallet Follies

Bathroom humor, political zingers pepper 2-hour performance

— On a Friday night filled with zesty zingers aimed at elected officials, crowd-pleasing bathroom humor and flamboyant costumes, Police Chief Floyd Johnson was among many performers with scene-stealing moments during the 22nd Poke Sallet Follies.

In front of a sellout crowd at the Athens Senior Center, Johnson took advantage of a skit in which the audience could hear city officials’ thoughts as County Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee and Sheriff Mike Blakely took turns rambling at the podium during a City Council meeting.

After Blakely daydreamed about getting home in time to watch the reality television show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” Johnson immediately quipped that cherubic City Attorney “Shane Black looks like Honey Boo Boo,” which drew big laughs from the audience.

The show used a popular running bit about the hoity-toity Vivian Nadene Van Houser, played by a fur-draped Karen Middleton, and her bowtie-bedecked chauffeur Robert Edward, played by Wade Batts, as they journeyed from Michigan to Gulf Shores.

The duo becomes stranded in Athens, quickly learning about Southern hospitality, events and jargon — a homemade pecan pie is a go-to gift, foot-stamping fiddlers are not classical violinists and “a Coke” refers to all soft drinks.

Despite spraining her ankle and losing a ring setting, Van Houser becomes enamored with the local culture and charms. She decides to permanently stay in town after meeting a Don Juan-esque jeweler played by Councilman Joseph Cannon, who promises to find “a diamond that won’t be chicken, that won’t run from (her) hand.”

The sticky-fingered Vivian and affable Robert appeared in several commercial spoofs and the opening and final numbers, helping to tie together the fast-paced, two-hour show themed “Home Sweet Home” and seamlessly staged by the Prime Time Players.

The approximately 75-member troupe is assisted by a well-oiled stage crew and comprised of local government officials, business leaders and area residents who put in hundreds of hours to prepare the original costumes, choreography, props, skits and commercials.

Crowd pleasers ranged from a joyful father-daughter dance and a parody of sports fans — Circuit Court Clerk Brad Curnutt brought the house down with his over-the-top portrayal of Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of former University of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron — to a Three Stooges-type farce with three grown men who revert to diaper-clad babies fighting for an oversize beach ball.

Among the 14 back-to-back skits, the poignant “A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words” garnered audience raves and was performed by Chris Coats, Kristen Coats, Leigh Ann Cochran, Stacey Givens, Ben Romine, Brittany Wiseheart, Nathan Wiseheart and Rachel Wiseheart

The contemporary shadow dance — beautifully choreographed by Kelly Cooke Nave and accompanied by the song “Read All About It” — symbolized the steep sacrifice of U.S. armed forces and their families, showcasing one family’s journey from birth to death.

“I thought the shadow dancers were good. It wasn’t a funny skit but it was really moving,” said Athens resident Ken “Wick” Scott, who attended with his wife Julia, their grandson Ethan, 12, and the extended family of Bob and Sherry Lahoud.

Revenue Commissioner Brian Patterson, vice president of the Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging, said the fundraiser generates more than $20,000 annually. Proceeds are used for improvements and programs at Limestone’s six senior centers.

Poke Sallet officials said they expected nearly 1,000 people to attend the three-night show, written by Cannon, Middleton and Russell Higgins, narrated by Eddi Smith and directed by Givens.

Athens State University student Jay Kellar provided hand-painted murals depicting local landmarks and destinations such as Founders Hall, Athens Stadium and Kreme Delite.

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