WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Howdy Doody

By on July 5, 2016

Yee-haws win out ho-hums at the Jackson Hole Playhouse.

Playhouse actor Golden Garnick poses with his new biggest fan, the author’s mother, Helga Tesar.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

Playhouse actor Golden Garnick poses with his new biggest fan, the author’s mother, Helga Tesar.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When I ask people in town where they’re from, and they respond with, “Here,” I have a playful habit of following up with, “Do you know what a Garnick is?” They often stare at me in confusion. One guy even responded, confident, “It’s a type of rock.” I’m sure there are plenty of people who identify as locals who would fail the Garnick test, but it’s just for my own amusement.

The Garnick family is a huge and immensely talented part of this community, having managed the Jackson Hole Playhouse for more than three decades. And if you Gen X-ers, Y-ers or Millennials don’t know at least one of Vicky Garnick’s eight kids, there’s a good chance you didn’t grow up ‘round these parts.

My family moved here in 1994 when I was seven years old, and it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I realized my mom had never seen a show at the Playhouse. I’d seen my fair share of Playhouse shows over the years, very likely every title they have on their rotating roster. But this year’s production, “The Ballad of Cat Ballou,” happens to be my favorite, followed closely by “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” I knew I had to take her.

Mom and I got tickets for dinner and the show, and I prepared her for absolutely none of it. We were seated in the Saddle Rock Saloon at a quint round table. Since the Playhouse does family-style seating, we were paired up with a couple from Germany who neither of us had met before. Since my family is from Austria, I told them, “We can speak in German if it’s easier. We’re Austrian.” The German man laughed and said, “Well, German is a little bit different than Austrian.” Oh you sweet German tourists, you. (If you’ve traveled the world you may know what I’m talking about. If there are German tourists reading this, you also may know what I’m talking about.)

The couple spent the rest of the night complaining about the food, the fact that no alcohol was served, the singing waiters, the amount of ice in their water glasses, the confusion about their seats, and just about everything else they could think of. My mom turned to me and whispered, “Don’t you wish we spoke a third language?”

Our annoyances fell away once the energetic pre-show started. I watched my mom’s face light up like a kid at Christmas. The local and outside talent that Vicky Garnick brings to the table is professional, charming, and more talented than most community theatre casts in the valley. The musical production is candidly hokey and ridiculous, often over-acted and hackneyed to death. But that’s what makes the Playhouse so unique in the valley. They own the cheese and they drive it home six nights a week.

Throughout the play, it warmed my heart to watch Mom roll with laughter at the antics on stage. The rest of the audience was also having a blast, accepting the show for exactly what it was: a feel-good Western musical. Having to perform so many shows, the actors do plenty every night to keep things interesting for themselves. At one point during the traditional Benny Hill-style runaround, actor Golden Garnick moaned, “My microphone is falling off and I’m really tired,” just loud enough for the audience to hear, spurring plenty more laughs.

I know it sounds like this column was paid for by the Playhouse (it wasn’t), but I think it’s important to highlight Jackson’s overlooked treasures. It bums me out when locals shrug off the rodeo or the Playhouse as typical, corny tourist traps. These are the same people who sing praises of what the Town Square Shootout “used to be,” describing its pre-Playhouse days like it was some goddamn Quentin Tarantino/OK Corral bloodbath.

Jackson’s howdy-doody Western roots are nothing to be ashamed of, nor should we mislabel local entertainment as fodder for tourists just because Michael Franti isn’t headlining.

After the play I asked the German couple what they thought, and the man frowned and tilted his palm back and forth. My mom emerged behind them, smiling from ear to ear.

“Wie schade,” I told the man. What a shame. PJH


About Andrew Munz

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