Bearded Ladies' 'Bitter Homes and Gardens': A Hoedown with a message

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Lend me your ears: Kristen Bailey (left) and Mary Tuomanen drive home a plant-friendly agenda in the Bearded Ladies' outdoor show, a warning against genetic modification and destruction of the plant world, presented in a goofy, punny production. (Plate 3 Photography)

The endearing, talented, always-a-pleasure Bearded Ladies have concocted a new show, Bitter Homes and Gardens: A Botanical Hoedown. In it, they ask this question: If plants had voices, what would they sing?

This outdoor production, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Pop-Up Gardens, is in the heart of South Philly, across Ninth Street from Pat's Steaks. The BLs perform on a makeshift stage with the crumbling mural faces of Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, and Frankie Avalon looking down upon them.

This is a Hoedown with an agenda: We human beings destroy, genetically modify, and generally disrespect the plant world at our peril. If you want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, as the Joni Mitchell song goes, beware.

The entertainment is emceed by Mary Tuomanen (who, with John Jarboe, wrote the show), and the music is provided by BLs stalwart composer Heath Allen on accordion, backed up by the Constant Gardeners, Jimmy Parker and Peter Taney. Sally Ollove directs.

Jarboe plays a seedling in time-lapse photography ("Mother Nature on speed"), while Kristen Bailey and Kate Raines are Mary and Jane, the Hash Sisters, plants friendliest to humans. Maggie Johnson plays Mrs. Potatoheads (note the plural), and Jenny Fernandez is One Ton Tomato. Aaron Bell is a member of the girl-group called the GMOs, who give us a lively rendition of "Don't Graft Onto the Apple Tree." Jarboe's fern from the carboniferous era provides a final cautionary tale of Frankenfoods and ecological disaster.

There is lots of wit, tons of puns, and clever lyric modification, but I did wish for more music and more real singing. Too much gets lost in the outdoorsy lack of acoustics and in the goofing around.

If you go, there is a pop-up bar as well as a pop-up garden in a reclaimed urban lot filled with firecracker flowers and repurposed stuff, nicely underscoring the Bearded Ladies' message.


THEATER REVIEW

Bitter Homes and Gardens: A Botanical Hoedown

Presented by Bearded Ladies Cabaret at the PHS Pop-Up Gardens at Ninth and Wharton Streets through Friday, and at 15th and South Streets from July 12 to 19.

Admission: Pay what you can ($15-$20).

Information: 215-802-1105 or www.beardedladiescabaret.com.