Always Sweet, Never Sour
That’s the Fowler Family Radio Hour

Halfway through the Fowler family’s variety-show-style radio hour, Thaddeus Leonard (a Fowler-by-marriage) invites an audience member to come on stage and pick a Southern word from a bucket (“swampmeasles”) for their game show “You Down Right Guessed It.” The chosen contestant revealed to the cast that he was from Charlotte, but had visited Henley before, the family’s hometown where their show is broadcast from the Titwhistle Theater, affectionately called “The Tit.”

The Fowler family cast so aptly takes on their roles that were it not for over-the-top antics like ambiguously-gay Taylor Hickok’s booty-shaking tribute to Johnny Cash, one might begin to believe the program was real. In fact, even Henley is a fictional place, hence the brief expressions of surprise from the cast when their audience member announced he’d once passed through. Asheville-based bluegrass ensemble Town Mountain performed twice during the show, adding to the program’s air of legitimacy. Trading licks between the banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and upright bass, the group showed off some serious chops while maintaining a casual feel with the audience. In the midst of talented actors portraying very real, yet “fake” talents like the elderly Essie May Leonard’s baton-twirling tribute to the Henley High Rebels football team, Town Mountain very aptly contributed to the show. Immediately after clapping and head-bobbing to quality bluegrass, Rick Thomason, the washed-up stunt motorcyclist and grandson of show emcee Calvin Coolidge Fowler, offered a film review of Back to the Future 2, a weekly segment on the show during which Thomason discusses movies he owns on VHS while Calvin and Taylor Hickok act out scenes. Thomason’s “review” frequently steers away from Marty McFly and the Doc as parts of the tale remind him of his ex-wife Katherine and a romantic birthday dinner at Olive Garden before she left him. If only he had that time machine… Although all of the characters have their charm: football-fanatic Essie May Leonard, played by N.C. native Shelby Jennings, stands out as the most believable yet over-the-top member. She invites the wife of Henley High’s football coach onto the program, and asks about her prospects of joining the team, who haven’t won in two seasons. “Look me in the eyes when you lie to me,” says Essie May, when the woman gives a line about “doing anything you set your mind to.” “Aren’t you filling my cup full of sugar?” she jokes, not too far off from an aging, slightly senile Southern woman with wit still intact. Scattered throughout the show are public service announcements and commercials advertising twine, warning of the dangers of shooting guns into the air, and a promotion for the upcoming Sausage Festival, which particularly excites cowboy-attire-clad Taylor Hickok. The idea for this show sprang from each of the six Chicago-based comedians childhoods in the South, and their parody of life in Dixie has received rave reviews in the big city on the lake. Piccolo marks their first performance of the show in the geographical area that inspired it, and judging by the laughter and general noise each time the “Applause” light lit up, us Southerners can appreciate a little pickin’ on ourselves as well.

The Fowler Family Radio Hour • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • $15 • May 27 at 5 p.m.; May 28 at 6 p.m.; May 29 at 7 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 853-6687