HOUSTON - In 1993, local playwright/composer/actress Marianne Pendino debuted her third one-woman musical satire The Attitude Club, a lampoon of the self-help movement. While the earlier two, The Art of Living and One Woman a Million Laughs, weren't panned, The Attitude Club was an unqualified hit. Taking on neuroses, obsessions and other attitudes of solipsism, Pendino played such colorful types as Baba Swami, an Indian guru; Ramon, a visionary popsicle vendor; and Thelma Lou, a sassy trailer house mom. Premiering at Houston's Main Street, The Attitude Club sold out for three successive years during extended holiday runs and later was SRO in Galveston at the Strand Street Theatre. Last August Pendino was invited to bring it to the First Annual International Fringe Festival in New York but had to decline because of the prohibitive cost of travel and production expenses.
This coming Thursday, May 21, once again at Main Street, Pendino presents her latest effort, one which she hopes lives similarly happily hereafter. Indeed, a quick-change musical comedy about the afterlife, it's called Happily Hereafter. And though just as many "characters" populate the stage in Happily Hereafter as did The Attitude Club, this time Pendino gets some help from a couple other actors, Jimmy Phillips and Ann C. James. "I was getting lonely," Pendino joked. "I really wanted dialogue."
Created with first-time writer Jane Seger, and running through June 21, Happily Hereafter is a three-person, nine-character comedic examination of the spiritual forever. A Catholic nun, a former Chicano gang leader/rap star wannabe, and God's ever-patient personal secretary, named, of course, Grace, are part of the mix, as are an East Indian guru, a right-wing fundamentalist radio evangelist, and a retarded adult. The central character is, naturally, Angela, a recent arrival. Happily Hereafter began as an angelic monologue to show appreciation for volunteers at an area Catholic retreat. In its final play-length form, Happily Hereafter uses humor to probe such fundamental questions as: do we need a religion to be devout and to what degree, if at all, do theosophical differences matter? A main intent, Pendino said, is to teach religious tolerance and that there are many ways to access the divine. All done with a smile out to here and a song in the heart.
The Attitude Club was directed by one-time Alley Theatre actor Jeffrey Bean, who has since gone to New York to further his career. Pendino said Bean was more than a director; he was her collaborator. "Originally, The Attitude Club was really a bunch of monologues. It needed a through-line, a shape, a vision, and Jeffrey helped me find it." Happily Hereafter, on the other hand, is firmly structured, Pendino said, due to no small account to her having a writing partner to provide objectivity, coherence, uniformity. "I don't think we can rewrite anymore," Pendino concluded. "We need to put the play onstage. Changes will probably occur after we see how it runs, but not anymore before." So the onus for the director, veteran Main Street associate Steve Garfinkel, who co-authored Pendino's first musical, It's a Jungle Out There, which was first presented at Main Street in 1986, is to make Happily Hereafter not so much irreverent as affectionate, more calculating than critical.
Which pretty much characterizes Pendino's day job. Among other tasks, she works in the education department of Houston Grand Opera and as a consultant with Young Audiences of Houston. Happily Hereafter opens at Main Street Theater in Houston on May 21 and runs through June 21. For tickets, $12 - $17, call (713) 524-6706
By Peter Szatmary