IN SMALL-TOWN AMERICA, it's still true that when dog bites man, not only does the man have something to say about it, but so do the dog owners, the man's wife, his neighbors, and everyone within a 12-block radius of the initial yell. So when somEthing really out of the ordinary occurs, the resulting commotion involves the entire community, and to an outside eye the results can be hilarious.
Odd Duck Studio September 8-October 1
That's the scenario of The Haint, an original one-man show written by Tom Fitzmacken, Jeff Pozarski, and Troy Mink, in which Mink plays a collection of characters in the fictional town of Midway, Tennessee, in the 1950s, where a murder/suicide has spawned rumors of a restful ghost. Performed in the style of a documentary, the piece has the phenomenally talented Mink taking on the roles of 15 different small-town eccentrics, whose varied accounts of the tragedy, and its after-effects, make the show a sort of comic Rashomon.
Although the town of Midway and the restless spirit of Mary are fictional inventions, much of the story is based upon an actual event from Mink's childhood in Lexington, Kentucky. "When I was about 9 or 10 years old, a woman who lived next door to me kept telling my mother that she was going to kill herself and this man who she thought was her boyfriend, even though he disagreed with her about that. It started as just talk, but she began to bring by these various items, like a gun and her will. She gave my mother a house key and told her, 'You'll know I've done it because I'll have put a handkerchief on the back door.' But then she kept sort of testing us, like shooting the gun off in the backyard and tying a handkerchief to see if we'd come over like we said we would."
In classic, small-town fashion, no one thought to alert the police or any other officials, despite the obvious hints that something was amiss. Mink says his mother still seems clueless that her actions bordered on being an accessory to murder. "She told me, 'Well, I talked to the minister and he said people talk like that all the time and they don't mean it. It's just attention-seeking.'" When the woman carried through on her plan, the general reaction of those who knew her was less surprise, and more a sort of bizarre acceptance. "It's like the perfect script for a Coen brothers movie," Mink says, laughing.
THE DECISION TO transform the story into a solo show came when Mink told the piece to Fitzmacken and Pozarski, friends from the local improvisation group Unexpected Productions. The three worked to develop each of Mink's characters, including New Age nuisance Bucky, Tom the ghost-busting sheriff, and the slow but surprisingly perceptive Stewart, with his enthusiasm for shrimp dip.
One of the characters, neighborhood gossip Carlotta Sue Philpott, proved so popular at the show's 1996 premiere that she went on to "star" in several productions of her own. "I'd been doing Carlotta before The Haint, but after that show, she really took off. She just had a lot more that she wanted to say." The fussy but lovable persona became the host of a long-running and extremely popular late-night cabaret, Carlotta's Late Night Wing-Ding, where she was surrounded by an extremely dysfunctional family of showbiz wanna-bes.
Mink's greatest skill as a solo performer is that his work is so subtle, so real, that oftentimes it's nothing more than a smile or a carefully placed gesture that differentiates one persona from another. His character work also contains such an emotional honesty that even at its most edgy and uncomfortable (the mentally disabled Stewart, for example), there's never a moment where you feel he sees his creations with anything less than love and respect. "Stewart, who's actually my uncle, is coming to see the show. We were able to raise enough cash to get him a ticket out here, and I think he'll love it." To celebrate, Mink will throw a post-show bash for his relative, which will most certainly include some shrimp dip.