James Macallister Photo
Amherst Gothic: Christine Stevens and Alexander Dreier
The Amherst town seal pairs images of a plow and a book, reflecting the town's parallel agricultural and academic history. A new soap opera serial with a local slant plays with both of those identities, but takes its title from the town's joky, unofficial motto, "Amherst, where only the H is silent."
Silent H, Deadly H (a title that also hints at the similarly-named stealth fart) is an offstage excursion into cyberland by the sketch comedy troupe Side of Toast. The parody soap was written by Paul Anthony Ita and directed by Pam Victor, who co-wrote the storyline and is a mainstay of the local comedy scene as a member of the Ha-Ha Sisterhood improv troupe and organizer of the monthly Happier Valley Comedy Show.
The show is being webcast in 12 weekly installments, available on YouTube, Funny or Die and the series' own website, SilentHDeadlyH.com. The first series was shot in familiar Valley locations over just five summer days by videographer James MacAllister. The first three-minute episode launched last week, and subsequent segments will come online every Friday through December.
Graphics in the main title sequence of the first installment tell us what we're in for: "Lust... Betrayal... Organic Produce." The steamy story begins with a confrontation on a precipitous ledge atop Mount Holyoke. It's a face-off between the quintessence of good, represented by Green Jeans Jenkins (Alexander Dreier), proprietor of all-organic Crunchyfield Farm, and the forces of evil, in the person of Letitia von Strumpett (Christine Stevens), the scheming factory farmer whose ad slogan, "From chicken egg to chicken leg in just five weeks," reflects not only her cruel business practices but a ruthless haste to accomplish her foul intent.
Which, of course, is to take over Green Jeans' farm and plow it under to expand her battery-cage empire. Since this is only the beginning of the web of intrigue that will spin out over the next couple of months, it isn't giving too much away to say that Dreier's last line, as Shakespeare put it in a different context, "has a dying fall."
A promotional video posted in advance of the premiere featured members of the cast discussing the soap send-up of all things Amherst. Tim Holcomb, who plays Wayne "Blanket" von Strumpett, Letitia's husband, says the series is "about a little town in Western Massachusetts with a big ego and a big problem." Scott Braidman, who appears as another member of the Strumpett clan, offers a teasing plot teaser: "It's about Amherst and drama and family and romance and mountains—and hot dogs... many hot dogs."
Ita and Victor themselves appear in future episodes, along with the Ha-Ha's Laura Patrick and Side of Toast's Katherine Glatter. Plot twists in store include such soap opera staples as babies switched at birth, along with the obligatory incest, adultery, deceit and backstabbing—literal and figurative. The production values and the budget are nowhere near network-grade, but from the look of Episode One, Valleyites will enjoy the satirical skewering of both the local eco-culture and a sitting-duck TV genre.