The year is 1954, smack in the middle of a decade of innocence and conservative values. This CD production, Four Research Porpoises Only from Lady Psychiatrist’s Booth, tells the story of four women trapped inside a male-dominated world, each trying to resolve why their husbands left them, each with their own unique story to tell about why their man is gone. Their individual stories are told in dialogue snippets of their therapy sessions with psychiatrist Garf Lunkel M.D., followed by introspective songs of each woman’s plight, rationalizations, and resolutions afterward.
This refreshing and creative satirical project immediately takes shape in what should be a future theater production hit, much along the lines of the San Diego Rep’s local hit production of Six Women with Brain Death in the mid 1990s. So, on that note, let me introduce to you the cast of characters: patient Heather Rachel Hardasstein, aka Ashley E. Norton on vocals, acoustic guitar); patient Linda Michelle Loveless, aka Amanda Albin on drums, and vocals; patient Katrina Rosina Killinger, aka MarciaClaire on bass, and vocals; patient Penelope Vanuddle, aka That Girl on violin, mandolin, and vocals, guest accompanist Joelle, aka Laura Hall on accordion and piano, and produced by Johnny Garcia.
The opening dialogue from the good doctor sets the tone for the album. “I will study the manifestation of various mental disorders of four female patients, recently self-admitted and detained for the safety of themselves and others.” Along the way we are treated to the ladies interjecting their satirical vocal harmony takes on those classic live television ads of the 1950s, selling soap and a “swivel-matic actuator” in addition to a clever mimicking of a collect phone call.
A month in, Dr. Lunkel has made his initial overall diagnosis for each woman. Heather suffers from altered reality syndrome, duly noted in her song “When I Grow Up,” where she yearns for an alternative existence in the repeating phrase, “give me a Mulligan.” Katrina is diagnosed with compulsive shopping disorder, admitting that QVC is her very best friend.
Linda is diagnosed with speech escapism, with her departing husband citing “girl you talk too much, I can’t take it anymore.” Linda yearns to be rid of her personality disorder as she describes in “Hell in Michelle,” set musically behind moans of a chain gang. “I just want to be out of these chains.”
Penelope’s diagnosis of compulsive maintenance syndrome is based on her self-described sinister disappearance of her husband. “I repaired the office chair, it had a funky wheel, I thought I’d put a motor on it for my husband Neal.” The eerie details are morbidly revealed in “Cold Dead Body.” “You made your bed, now lie in it…this ain’t all about revenge.”
Ultimately Penelope is imprisoned in Memphis, Tennessee for her husband’s mysterious disappearance, albeit becoming a celebrity martyr, answering fan mail while taking purchase orders from around the world for her motorized office chair, mainly to other wives who’ve been cheated on and or disrespected.
Beyond the spoken and novelty song satire there are also solid musical moments, especially in the second act of the CD with strong vocal harmonies, melodic mandolin and violin/fiddle phrases. Hall’s lush piano accompaniment is exhibited in the romantic ditty “Spanish Cafe,” with the repeated theme, “I wanna read poetry in a Spanish cafe,” and the gospel blues goodie, “Slow Train to Memphis.” “The sound of steel is music to my ears…a heart full of sin and pain in an empty bottle…I need to lose my soul in muddy waters.”
In addition, That Girl’s self-titled two-stepping autobiographical tune outlines her dreams of what she wanted dearly. “I want to be in Rolling Stone to make my parents proud, I want to stand on that stage, guitar picks to throw out…I want to be that girl.”
“Glad He’s Gone” is Penelope’s final anthem in ballad form to the dear departed Neal. “I’m glad he’s gone so I can rest in peace.” Two months in total, Dr. Lunkel leaves us with his updates on each patient with a touch of suspended reality, à la “Back to the Future,” where the doctor grapples with the 21st century monikers QVC and Amazon Prime. Lunkel tells us that Heather has entered cognitive therapy. Linda has received a lobotomy leading to a deep commitment for women’s rights. Katrina has healed from her husband’s affair with her former best friend Joelle, leading to a cure of her shopping addiction. Penelope, still in jail, continues her flourishing motorized office chair sales.
The final track, “Dancing in the Dirt,” is a rousing honkytonk up-tempo rocker, a perfect encore for bows from all the cast, with jamming solos on banjo, mandolin, and piano, a takeoff from Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” “Wear boots and blue jeans…we’re dancing in the dirt.”
My diagnosis is bravo to these women, who are not only well-established musical performers but also a talented comedy troupe that have written a wonderfully satirical gem that needs to be transformed into a musical theater production. So, when it happens, save me the aisle seat and a glass of red wine.