By Linda Harmon
Garrison Keillor look out! “A Perry Home Companion” left the Saturday night capacity crowd with more than its share of chuckles. It was an uptown version of a down-home good time, affectionately modeled on its namesake, Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” The one-night benefit performance for Theater 150, held at Matilija Auditorium, was co-produced by Debbie Perry and Theater 150′s Deb Norton, directed by Jenny Sullivan and starred the John Perry family, including wife Debbie, son Matthew, daughter Maria and brother Tony.
The night was a rousing success with its blend of humor, wit and nostalgia, raising funds to help furnish the theater’s expanded new space at 316 E. Matilija St.
“The family has often talked about performing together. We generally all do our own separate things. Playing together is a whole other thing, it’s a new way to get together other than just for Christmas or Thanksgiving,” said John Perry. “Since we have a soft spot in our heart for the theater, the benefit for 150 just seemed like a good way to do it.”
It may have been the first time the family has performed on stage together but it probably won’t be their last. They looked like they were having too much fun. The comfortable on-stage patter and sketches were interspersed with musical numbers by big brother Tony Perry accompanied by Jack Joshua on bass, Mark Parsons on fiddle and flute, and Steve Tremmel on guitar. Perry’s career, like his brother’s, includes music, television and theater, and he showed his ease on stage. The trio moved effortlessly through jazz selections from “The Ghost in the Attic,” Perry’s recently released CD, including “Someday,” a Zen-like lament.
The audience was also treated to alternative vocal groupings. John teamed up with Tony, which was expected and appreciated, but sweet surprises followed. Maria took the stage with Tremmel and scored big with the hit ballad, “Falling Slowly,” from the movie “Once.” Another vocal surprise materialized as John later teamed up with Matt on the tender 1974 hit, “Please Come to Boston.” Who knew Chandler could sing? Next Maria teamed up with Jessica Chanos to belt out a Thelma and Louise-like ballad, “Earl Must Die” after an old-fashioned red-neck cowboy duet by her dad and uncles.
The evening’s comic scenes included the classic Abbot and Costello “Who’s on first?” played by siblings Matt and Maria; the play “Intelligent Life” by David Babcock, acted by an ensemble including the John, Matt, Maria, Debbie; and the one that topped all the rest for star appeal, Grandma Molly Perry and Matt teamed up for a comic exchange as two bored baseball announcers. Great fun even if you’re not a baseball fan.
If the enthusiastic reception of Saturday night’s show is any indication Ojai definitely has a soft spot in its heart for the Perrys.