To paraphrase an old song from Paul Simon, “Something tells me it’s all happening at the library.” Simon said “at the zoo,” but nowadays, at least judging from our uber-literary Island, a major vendor, if not THE major vendor, of cultural arts is our six — count ’em, six! — public libraries.
We’re all partial, of course, to our local library, and mine is the palatial Oak Bluffs branch, which last week hosted a quiz show called Membership Down that could knock any of the Goodson/Todman half-hours out of the box for sheer entertainment.
It started one night in early January when program director Nathan Luce said to his friend Abby Bender, refugee from the dance scene in Brooklyn, “Would you like to collaborate on a game show?”
Abby said, “Only if I can involve my talented cousin Molly Coogan.” The three brainstormed, and the result unfolded last Thursday night when a jolly good time was instantly evident. People crowded into the conference room with little kids who seemed just as spellbound as the oldest adults. Bender wore a skirt of gold sequins, so stunning that she later told me the skirt itself had spawned a number of performances, instead of the other way around.
Luce finished blowing up a giant orange lobster the size of a real-life crocodile, tossing it on the floor alongside a bright bollox of white lights. DJ Jordan Bullinger from Vineyard Haven twiddled the knobs at her podium and, on the far side of the staging area, Vanna White impersonators Grace Hall of Edgartown and Lexi Willett of Vineyard Haven flanked Bender as mistress of ceremonies.
The Luce/Bender/Coogan approach to the game show is that no audience should be bogged down with one single format. The lineup ran from “Name That EDM” (electronic dance music, to us “old-ass parents”) to “Do Your Job” (borrowed from the ancient quiz show from the 1950s “What’s My Line?”), to “Monies for Bunnies” (“Do You Want to Be a Millionaire?) and, as they say in Hollywood, “much much more.”
Three contestants threw themselves into the fray: Scott Hershowitz, otherwise known as “the face of Mocha Mott’s,” who has been spreading his colorful personality about said Mott’s for many years; Timmy McNerney, a young man who delivers packages and yuks on behalf of UPS; and Sara Ahren of West Tisbury, a droll femme who hankers to drive heavy machinery.
The three judges were Luce, outfitted in a floral romper acquired when he taught meditation at an eco-resort in Africa; Coogan, decked out in black pants and a black jacket with orange accents; and Elisha Wiesner of Chilmark, piratical with a dark beard and a darker-still chuckle.
Clearly everyone was handpicked for talent at badinage, and as soon as the games began, judges, contestants, and the full cast of characters and lovelies offered their jewels of wit, some a bit off-color, such as our UPS fellow, who began a story, “I had a bunch of beans for lunch …“
A final add-on of wonderfulness was the hip hop group Fly Girls in hoodies and jeans, to wit Alise Haigazian, Arielle Hayes, Sophie Hiller, Lizzy Kent, Jessica Francis, and Christina Montoya, busting such cool moves that whenever they leaped up to dance, the audience cheered.
All in all, between the EDM, one-liners, sexy dancers, and the cornucopia of games dreamed up by Luce & Bender & Coogan, we Vineyarders can have much more fun at the library than by flicking on the TV set when spring has been unaccountably delayed.
One last agreeable feature: Each of the three contestants was allowed to pick a favorite Island charity to which to donate his or her winnings of $125. For Scott Hershowitz it was the Animal Shelter, Timmy McNerny chose Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sara Ahren, Connect to End Violence.
And the winner? Since you won’t be able to view it in reruns, it was the unflappably funny. McNerny, with his chips going to Felix Neck.
The next Membership Down, with all-new contestants selected from a talent pool of Islanders, will be held on April 26. Log on to oakbluffslibrary.org to get on the email list.