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Liberty Falls 54321 takes us to the heart of conservative darkness

Celebrating a cranky old woman in the wilds of Wisconsin

Celebrating a cranky old woman in the wilds of Wisconsin

The December theater landscape is littered with overstuffed "classics" that seem more chore than celebration. But the Moving Company offers a darker romp.

Liberty Falls 54321 takes us to the wilds of Wisconsin, where a community is about to celebrate the life of town scion, Liberty Rose Johnson, on her 105th birthday.

It's not clear what exactly is being celebrated. She's a mean old bird who is abusive to her granddaughter, Serendipity. The woman has spent her life trying to keep Liberty Falls "pure" — supporting a Nazi-like organization in the 1930s and helping to establish the town's first gated community.

All of this would be embarrassing enough for the event's ragtag organizers, except that after Serendipity says "yes" to her black boyfriend's marriage proposal, Liberty Rose keels over and dies.

Comedy is often built on things that are horrifying in real life. In this case, Liberty's corpse is carted out for the celebration, which includes a whitewashed tribute to her life.

It doesn't help that the hapless organizers are in way over their heads. Tamara (a cross-dressing Nathan Keepers), who marshals the group, isn't prepared for Carmel's (Christina Baldwin) passionless performance, or Francine's (Jennifer Baldwin Peden) inability to carry a tune.

It's almost as if the creators are trolling us, since the Baldwin sisters are actually stupendous singers.

That becomes clear when our volunteers present the town's annual pageant, starring Liberty's corpse (Steven Epp, with a smug expression throughout). It's a tale of Liberty's early years as an innocent maiden who finds and loses love at the bend in the river before founding the town.

The doggerel is something of a Wagnerian opera, giving the Baldwins and Serendipity's guilt-struck boyfriend Tracy (tenor Dom Wooten) the chance to stretch their vocal chords.

In the pageant, Liberty falls in love with a local native. That certainly would be a scandal for the purebred community, but the native thankfully dies and our heroine finds love in the arms of a studly German lumberjack.

Beneath all the slapstick is the real message of Liberty Falls 54321. Liberty represents the hardline "everything was better when it was just people like me here" strain of American conservatism. She's the face of the Obama haters, the violent Planned Parenthood protesters, the gun-toting bullies.

In fact, the show's biggest misstep is to bring Liberty Rose back to life. In a Monty Python-esque twist, she wasn't completely dead. That gives Liberty a chance to deliver a hate-filled birthday speech.

Yet this only goes to underscore a message that was already crystal clear, robbing the show of its playful tone at exactly the wrong moment. It doesn't ruin the evening, but it does offer a ham-fisted conclusion to such an entertaining ride.

Liberty Falls 54321 runs through December 20 at the Lab Theater.