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The Long 'Rode' Home

Casey Wilson brings sketch comedy show to Alexandria to honor her late mother, Kathy.

Casey Wilson is Mary Beth Howell Perez Kozlowski Steinberg, a self-help guru in a shocking pink coat and the co-author of the self-published Spokane Times best-selling book “Smart Women: Go Get Him!”

Her advice to the females in the audience? To get the man you want, become the women he wants — even if it means crushing your own self-esteem in the process.

“If ya came here for a little hand-holding and shoulder crying, you came to the wrong place, girlfriendssss…,” she says, in-between condescending laughs, in a Midwestern accent.

Later, Steinberg offers step-by-step (bad) advice to the lovelorn, including this personal vow: “I will never attempt to rebuild him — but I will dissolve my own inner core, piece by piece.”

Steinberg embodies everything Kathy Wilson thankfully did not. Wilson was a tireless advocate for equality, and a champion of individuality. Yet Casey Wilson — an actress, writer and comedian born in Alexandria — sees a little of her late mother in the outlandish character she plays in her two-woman sketch comedy show.

“I mean that in a good way. My mom’s sense of humor runs throughout the show. We even named it after an expression she used to say,” she said.

Casey Wilson and June Raphael are the creators and performers of “Rode Hard and Put Away Wet,” a sketch show whose title comes from one of Kathy Wilson’s favorite expressions; one that originally referred to an under-groomed horse in a stable, but which Wilson reserved for women who were “caught at an airport bar before 2 p.m.,” according to the duo’s official bio.

Raphael and Wilson will bring “Rode Hard” to Alexandria for a pair of special performances next month on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at Dodge Hall at Baptist Temple Church, 700 Commonwealth Ave. in Alexandria. Shows start at 8 p.m., and tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children. All proceeds will benefit The Kathy Wilson Foundation (www.kathywilsonfoundation.org), where Casey, her father and brother serve on the board.

The foundation supports Kathy Wilson’s vision of developmentally appropriate early childhood education and character building.

And no matter which character Casey Wilson is disappearing into during her show, she’s still Kathy Wilson’s child.

CASEY WILSON has only been back to Alexandria once since her mother died of a heart attack in her sleep on Sept. 1, 2005, at age 54. Despite the fact that “Rode Hard” was partially written in Alexandria and all of its video components were edited there, this will be the first time Casey Wilson will perform the show in her hometown.

“I don’t want to say I’m nervous. I know we’ll put on a good show. We’re doing the show for all the right reasons,” she said. “But it’s going to be emotional. Even performing since my mom died has been emotional, when you have such a supportive mom. Performing without that support system is difficult.”

Paul Wilson, Casey’s father, said she had the performance bug from the age of nine, back when her stage was built in the backyard with cinder blocks and plywood. Casey eventually started recruiting her friends for backyard productions. “It’s funny what an 8-inch cinder-block stage will do for ambition,” he said.

Casey credits her parents with encouraging her career and, most importantly, for fostering her sense of humor. “I think of mom as a comedian. So funny growing up in the house. My dad is very funny, too.”

Paul Wilson said he remembers seeing those early indications of his daughter’s future career. “There’s little magic moments when you introduce your child to something, and you see the seed start to grow. I don’t think we were obnoxious stage parents. We just wanted to facilitate a dream,” he said.

It was a different path than that of Casey’s parents, both of whom were involved in politics. Kathy Wilson was a former chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus in Northern Virginia, and at one point was lauded by Ladies Home Journal as one of “America’s 100 Most Important Women.” Her tenure included lobbying for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s selection and that of vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. Later, she became an advocate for early childhood education and was the director of the Abracadabra pre-school at the Baptist Temple Church.

Paul Wilson said that despite the role models her parents provided, Casey never wavered from wanting to take to the stage. “There was no deviation from what she wanted to do.”

Casey said she hasn’t completely shied away from politics — playing the Hollywood game and all. “I don’t see how I’m not involved in them.”

CASEY WILSON IS CRYSTAL, a blonde with a Britney Spears accent. She’s clad in a sports bra, jeans and a blue smock with a Wal-Mart name tag giant photo pins of her children. “If I can make one customer happy; I’m happy. If I can make one person smile … like a half-smile … or smirk-a-smile …,” she says, as she works out on an elliptical trainer and contorts her face into a half-dozen variations of a grin, “they don’t even have to look at me. I’m a success. I ain’t gonna worry about nobody.”

Casey/Crystal is featured in one of several video shorts in “Rode Hard,” this one focused on the virtues of Wal-Mart customer service.

“Honestly, we were kicked out of Wal-Mart very early on, but we were sure to get coverage right away,” said Casey Wilson. She said she and Raphael figured they were safe in the back of the store to do some guerilla filmmaking. “Meanwhile, in Wal-Mart, they’re always looking back at you. Like God looking down at you,” said Wilson.

The duo was kicked out of the store, and then asked to leave the parking lot by a police officer. So the shoot continued at a Modell’s Sporting Goods — Crystal’s scenes were shot there — until the filming was halted again. Raphael’s scenes were being shot at a party planning store, until they were discovered and again were sent packing. “You can probably see fear in our eyes,” said Wilson.

Raphael and Wilson met at New York University — at a clown class no less — and quickly developed a friendship. Their similarities are covered in a hilarious home video montage that begins “Rode Hard.”

“The way we see it is that these two girls are growing up in different places, but it’s almost like we were best friends before we ever met,” said Wilson. “June and I are both whores for musical theatre. This is really sad-slash-awesome.”

“Rode Hard,” a smart and funny examination of several women and their sometimes unsettled personalities, was the first show they wrote together. “A lot of that writing is improv. I’ll find a script from the first show we did, and I won’t even recognize the lines,” said Raphael.

It premiered at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting in December 2003. It moved to The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in May 2004, home to one of the country’s most prestigious comedy troupes. The Brigade has produced several high-profile talents, including “Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Poehler, a friend and mentor to Wilson and Raphael.

“Rode Hard” was an official selection of HBO’s Aspen Comedy Arts Festival in 2005. Later that year, it began a run in Los Angeles.

Both actresses have found some impressive projects in Hollywood. Wilson, for example, had a role on an HBO pilot directed by Bob Odenkirk that she described as a 20-something version of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It played as short film at Sundance and SXSW.

She also had a role on Comedy Central’s “SportsCenter” spoof that was in the spirit of “The Daily Show.” The project, unfortunately, ended before it made the air. “It was really, really funny. And I think there’s a total market for that,” she said.

Raphael and Wilson also sold a “Laverne and Shirley”-type comedy pilot to the UPN network — and yes, that’s two young white girls selling a show to the UPN Network. “You heard it here first, man,” said Wilson.

Currently, they’re serving as story editors for a new CBS show called “Creature Comforts,” from the creators of “Wallace and Grommit,” that’s due to air next winter. The duo is also doing a rewrite for a Kate Hudson buddy comedy from New Regency Pictures.

“First it’s ‘Where are the roles for women?’ and then it becomes ‘Where are the funny roles for women?’” said Wilson.

Although she didn’t exactly follow in Kathy Wilson’s career path, Casey sees this as a chance to help keep her mother’s ideals alive.

“My mom’s whole thing was fighting for equality. I like to think that’s what I’m trying to do — to create opportunity.”

CASEY WILSON IS fighting with a loaf of bread. She and Raphael are playing diners in another “Rode Hard” video short, this time trying to battle the temptations of basket of carb-filled baked goods at a restaurant — in slow motion, with Carmina Burana blasting on the soundtrack.

Over the top? Sure, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We like our comedy to be broad, but with some truth behind it,” said Wilson. “When you have 10 cups of coffee, what’s going on in your head? Where are you going emotionally? At one point, you’re going to want to kill yourself.”

It’s the kind of comedy her mother appreciated. During one performance of “Rode Hard” in New York, Kathy showed that appreciation as only a mother could.

“One time did the show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade up in New York, and she was the only one giving a standing ovation at the end. Really awkward. And she was looking around at other people and was like, ‘What? Get up [and cheer]!’” recalled Casey Wilson. “I mean, it’s not 'Les Miserables.'”

Casey said she wished her mother could be there when “Rode Hard” rides into Alexandria for the benefit shows, but relishes the chance to continue building on her vision within The Kathy Wilson Foundation.

“My mom loved living in Alexandria, and I loved growing up there. This is such an important and unique opportunity,” said Wilson.

Her father, naturally, agreed.

“It’s something [Casey’s] wanted to do,” said Paul Wilson. “It makes you feel great that she wants to honor her mother, and comedy is a great way to do it.”