Hello, Stranger

Steve Farrell, Rich Mills and Vicki Farrell play all the characters in this featherweight comedy.
Courtesy of Radio Music Theatre

The citizens of Dumpster, Texas, are at it again. Created by a trio of actors at Radio Music Theatre, the wacky Fertle family and all their friends and silly neighbors are now starring in Whatshisname?, a featherweight comedy about a stranger with an eye patch who comes visiting one fine day.

For the uninitiated, the Fertles, with their wide Texas accents, their big Aquanetted hair and their funny little hats and rhinestone glasses, have been making Houstonians laugh for almost 21 years. Along the way, Steve and Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, who play all the characters at every show, have earned themselves a bunch of loyal fans; on opening night of Whatshisname?, folks cheered as familiar and much-loved characters made appearances throughout the evening. In fact, RMT's sketch comedy shows, titled everything from I Love You But You're Sitting on My Cat to Grandpa Hasn't Moved in Days, often play to sold-out crowds. And the tiny cabaret-style venue, located on Colquitt just west of Kirby, offers a unique, laid-back theatrical experience. These are easy-listening, kick-back-with-a-beer kind of shows that really are funny enough to make you laugh out loud every once in a while.

Created by the talents of Steve and Vicki Farrell, Rich Mills and two backstage guys named Mark Cain and Pat Southard, Whatshisname? tells what happens when a man with bifocals and an eye patch knocks on the Fertles' door one day, suitcase in hand, for an overnight visit. Only trouble is, nobody can remember who this fellow is.



Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

Through November 19. $20.

Being the polite people that they are, the Fertles figure that they themselves are at fault. They must know this guy, since he seems to be so chummy with them. He talks about all the letters he's sent, and he knows about the local high school and past events that everybody acknowledges are indeed true. So the Fertles make nice and pretend this stranger is as familiar as a "little baby owl" (as the Fertles like to say), all the while doing their darnedest to figure out who the heck he is. They serve him fruitcake; they ask him how he's doing; they even let him put his suitcase in the "other room." That he gets sick on something (probably the fruitcake, which dates back a few years) and ends up spending most of his time "chucking up" in the bathroom is purely accidental.

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Meanwhile, an all-points bulletin goes out to the Fertles' friends and family. They get so desperate, they even put up a $10 reward for anyone who can identify this strange man. As one character says, the situation is a "double order of weird with extra odd sauce."

In the meantime, the Fertles have other problems to deal with. Daughter Justicena is now going through menopause and she's wearing a hormone patch -- in the middle of her forehead. She's pretty weepy until she gets her paws on some oral hormones that make her moods swing to deliriously happy. Complicating the poor woman's life is the big-hair contest she's having with her sister-in-law, who knows how to spray her blond mane into finger-in-a-light-socket hugeness.

At the local cafe, the crowds are running thin. No matter, the little band on stage plays music anyway, and we get to listen in on their goofy songs about dancing, dying, girly-men and whatnot.

A much-loved character named Doc Moore, with his speech of Southern gibberish and his foggy glasses, shows up and carries on a long, unintelligible conversation with the stranger. And we think the mystery is solved at last, but when the stranger walks out of the room, Doc Moore makes it somehow clear in his oddly impenetrable dialect that he has no idea who the guy is.

The town is so dinky that its emergency number is "91" and its addresses are numbers like "3" and "4," so everybody's confused as to why nobody seems to know who this fellow with the eye patch is, even though he seems to know all of them.

When the mystery is solved at last, the whole thing is perfectly logical, in a kooky, small-town kind of way. And though they might not be the brightest bulbs in the pack, nobody could ever say the Fertles don't practice Southern hospitality.

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