Imagine a world wherein you feel slightly like you are peeking in on a real life Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta, set it in the old west, throw in a dash of Sesame Street sketch sensibility and a pinch of bawdy Shakespearian audience participation and you’ve got The Archway Studio Theatre’s latest production of Deadwood Dick!
The theatre lobby is small but only for a good cause on this magically halcyon evening in one of the more-less-traveled areas of North Hollywood. The prime reason for the lobby’s sense of diminished largesse: A more than ample glass refreshment case flanked by a double wide refrigerator sporting nearly every drink imaginable in the Western Hemisphere; but the most arresting piece de resistance would have to be the white and red Chinese food boxes stacked atop the food display case. Inside each and every container: Peanuts upon peanuts atop other in-shell peanuts!!! “You can buy them to throw at the villain. They’re really good though so you can eat them. Then just throw the shells,” discloses Annie Freeman, current bar keep, house manager, and second act heroin of tonight’s extravaganza. She will then go on to reveal, in light of some of the gold panners depicted in tonight’s tale that the building in which we are currently coalescing used to be a video production studio, but that was merely a riddle mapped in a conundrum, inside of a concrete costume as the filmic façade was in actuality a front for a massive jewelry vault! “Oh yeah, this lobby alone used to be covered with cameras!” Now any and all antique baubles it sports will include an upright piano, historic posters from past Archway shows–above the behemoth refrigerator–and right to its left, a Hawaiian coconut monkey. It amuses me greatly.
Upon theatrical entry, the set itself reminds me chiefly, as mentioned above, of that of a Sesame Street sketch I once witnessed. It involved Grover and the blue-skinned, bitchy, bald guy who was always getting ornery with Grover ‘bout somethin’ er other. Combine this with all the appeal of Bonanza and the anticipation of Lorne Greene clippity clopping forward-saddle on the painted path positioned perpendicularly to the saloon doors, sprinkle it with melodrama galore and you’ve got not only the surrounding environs but the general vibe of what is about to transpire.
Okay, now “When the handsome young hero comes onstage, CHEER! When the lovely young heroine comes onstage, SIGH and when the villain comes onstage, throw those peanuts at him and give me a nice big loud BOO,” instructs Annie our heretofore mistress of munchies and imminent leading lady!
Oho, this is going to be a notable night! I’ve got my Chardonnay, my nuts which are deliciously salty (and only $3.00 for a box that appears as deep as Deadwood Dick’s distinguishable duplicity) and all manner of piss and vitriol I cannot wait to sling at this blithering Western idiot!
The play opens as villagers and saloon-sitters the town over hunker down at Calamity Jane’s Mantrap Saloon in Deadwood Gulch–Dakota Territory, whilst getting word of a lovely young maiden absconded from a carriage thusly separated from her sister by an as yet, unknown, unseen character under the guise of Deadwood Dick.
Calamity Jane played by a mouthwateringly melodramatic Emily Blokker Dahlquist waxes suspenseful to side-splitting effect as she constantly feels—“a foreboding!—I reckon that’s why they call me–Calamity Jane!”
The two sisters—separated NOT at birth (but brought together then actually) yet torn asunder in medias res by the dastardly Deadwood Dick (who may not even be who he says he is) are the talk of the town; to speak nothing of the tumult provoked the Saloon over as Sister #1: Lily Blossom portrayed by a believably blind and delicately bumbling Sarah Morris arrives on the scene to lament her sister Rose Blossom’s horrendous fate! Rose Blossom is of course played by the incomparable and sweet Miss Annie Freeman to most prissy yet transiently lovey-dovey to stand-offish effect!
There is a sheriff in this fantastical town. The Dictator of said Deadwood Gulch? Sheriff Homer Loveless played to a stalwart-T by a rootin’ tootin’, razzle-dazzle Elias McCabe. The sheriff has a wife; Molly Loveless played wistfully in most melancholic, graceful, and concerned fashion by an elegant and fittingly melodramatic Jennifer Hawkins.
Years back there was a character named Prairie Blossom—played by no one really (yet quite rousingly so) because he is dead–who was some kind of gold miner extraordinaire. Only he knows where the most bountiful booty is…or so we think, until it is revealed that years back, said peculiar-assed panner tattooed a treasure map–tramp stamp-style-on one of his daughter’s lower backs. But which one…?—Aye there’s the rub of two coins together!!!
The villain—or at least one of the villains (real or imagined) at whom we throw the most peanuts (‘cause God knows the Sheriff, the judge, the bartender and Calamity Jane herself are top co-contenders at times) is Blackman Redburn—aka ‘Black and Red’—and he’s just…well…kind of a jerk and played just as deviously, and then some, by producing artistic director and steadfast actor to boot—Steven Sabel!
Oho! And lest we forget—our hero Ned Harris; our unflagging, tenacious golden haired Adonis portrayed by the charming, charismatic and adorable Benjamin Campbell who may have a bit of a devilish—who-done-it-duality about him in kind.
Confused? Fret not. By the end of Act I all everybody—at least according to our hearty
hero–is wondering is, “How dead would Deadwood Dick be if Deadwood Dick would be dead?!?”
Other characters and actors of note include Vincent Cusimano as the gentlemanly, delightful and most authentically southern-accented Wild Bill Hickock, JP Rapozo in his perfect Charlie Chanesque (1930s Black and White film non-Asian actor playing Asian) portrayal of all-too-recent immigrant Pong Ping, Carl Garcia as the handsome, yet clueless, sexist, and predictably nut dusted and busted Chet Pussy with Miner Joe and Miner Zeke rounding out the Cavalcade of characters in Calamity Jane’s Mantrap-Saloon, played respectively by the arrestingly quirky Daniel Krause and agreeably googley-eyed Phil Hunter!
Scenic Design by Eleanor Palagci tops it all off to fitting and fantastical effect! Direction by Steven Sabel is perfection.
After all the guns are shot, actresses have swooned, and peanuts are slung, I wonder how it is I will ever go back to watching a play without the option to chuck nuts at any and all actors whose characters suddenly cop the least bit of jerkery, all the while anticipating my next reviewer’s jaunt to the Mark Taper Forum. I then realize I am in trouble. Nevertheless, all audience participation relating to lobbed nuts yields a most perfect punctuation to any and all comedic timing. Blackman Redburn makes a salacious comment and as a nut bounces off his bandana one millisecond after his very last sardonic syllable. Sheriff Lovelace slings everything he’s got by way of sexist sarcasm and a freshet of peanut shells flies up past his midriff but most voluminously and symbolically soars on and above his genitals. And seriously, concerning the woman sitting in the first row stage left—You do NOT want to mess with her on this front! (Sitting in the second row, yours truly throws some shells and they hit the bartender—well, sort of; but not before grazing the guy in the Green Lantern shirt’s buzz cut as he perfunctorily brushes the top of his head in most mundane, maintenance-preserving fashion! Hoo boy!!! Hilarious though…)
Deadwood Dick runs at the Archway Studio Theatre through May 24th.
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