WILD OATSBy James McClure
Producer: Jack Alder
Director: Bruce R. Coleman
Costume Designer: Bruce R. Coleman
Set Design: Jeffrey Schmidt
Lighting Design: Josh Blann
Fight Coach/Director: Micah Figueroa
Stage Manager: Darius Warren
Technical Director: Daniel Pucul
Scenic Artist: David Walsh
Production Assistant: Katherine Marchant
Production Crew: Katherine Marchant, Elysse Alvarado,
Charlotte Collie, Nathan Mills, Kelly Nickell, David
Pluebell, Gillian Salerno-Rebic, Christine Smith
Jack Rover: Andy Baldwin
Mr. Kleigle/Wilson: Blake Blair
Harry Thunder: James Chandler
Sim/Angel Eyes/Cowboy: Micah Figueroa
Corporal Crow: Adrian Godinez
Senor Morales/Cowboy: Mark C. Guerra
Kate Thunder: Lee Jamison
Croftus Thunder: Gregory Lush
Ike Gammon: Chris Messersmith
Muz/Liberty: Aaron Roberts
Amelia/Madame: Sheila Rose
Jane Gammon/Saloon Girl: Jessica Renee Russell
Cowboy/Mr. Leako/Marshall: David Stewart
Ephraim Smooth: Terry Vandivort
Bartender/Sherriff/Bear: Jason Robert Villarreal
Pianist: Pam Holcomb-McLain
Reviewed Performance: 8/15/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Wild Oats, written by SMU alumni James McClure, is my favorite kind of story because it's basically pointless. While I love shows like Next to Normal and Les Miserables, I like to have FUN in the theater! And that's what Wild Oats is ? rootin' tootin' dizzy hare-brained fun.
The story is convoluted and mashed up with tales of your sister's husband's cousin's best friend's baby mama, and there is a ridiculous number of character names with which to keep up (think anything written by Robert Ludlum). But in the end the story is about three things: family, love and money. Theatre Three directorial veteran Bruce R. Coleman assembled a gifted cast to tell this tale and, as a testament to the ensemble of actors, the story itself would have foundered in less capable hands.
Theaters in the round always intrigue me because a show has to be visible at each of three hundred and sixty degrees. The blocking and the set have to be adjusted for each and every seat in the house, and I imagine this to be a great challenge for directors. Mr. Coleman was equal to the task in this scenario as I was able to see every bit of action from my vantage point on the north side of the theater.
Jeffrey Schmidt designed this set which was one of the most ornate I'd seen at Theatre Three. The major set area in the southwest corner of the space was the home of the Last Chance Saloon. Complete with a smudged and grimy mirror, mounted game on the walls and a stairway and landing that (presumably) led up to the corseted ladies' rooms, Mr. Schmidt's design supported the needs of the story very well. The most animated set piece ? the piano - was also appropriately located in the saloon.
Instead of hiding the pianist behind the mass of a black velvet curtain, Pam Holcomb-McLain was seated at the piano and visible for the entire show. She played the kind of music you might expect to hear in a saloon but she also provided musical effects for the actors to highlight some of their lines. Some of the tunes were vaudevillian, some were cartoonish, but they all served to augment the action. The piano itself was a genuine period piece with its yellowed ivories and its tinny, slightly out-of-tune intonation.
Wild Oats started off with a bang but it dragged quite a bit for the last half of Act 1. This lull definitely wasn't performance related but rather attributed to the story fleshing itself out?and it just seemed to take forever. The production team brilliantly added a sing along at the top of Act 2 just as the audience was settling back in from intermission. We sang "Red River Valley" along with the cast, threw in a few "yeehaws" for good measure, and we were ready to get back to the Last Chance Saloon.
As in most better-than-good ensembles, each of the actors clearly defined their characters and they played off each other to form cohesive scenes. Terry Vandivort as Ephraim Smooth, the leader of the The Church of Christian Sufferin' and Denial, did greed and evil very well. His comedic choices shouldn't be overlooked however ? especially his physicality whenever he said "hallelujah" and his malodorous fetish that came to light in Act 2. Gross.
Chris Messersmith gave us another dose of southern villainy with his turn as Ike Gammon, the elder scheming landowner. His indentured children/slaves, Sim and Jane, were played by Micah Figueroa (who also served as the show's fight coach) and Jessica Renee Russell respectively. Mr. Figueroa moonlighted as two other minor characters in the show, and I responded more to his secondary character, Angel Eyes, than to his portrayal of the dimwitted Sim. Sim, while hysterically funny for the first couple of scenes, was one of those characters that grated on the nerves by the end of the show. Ms. Russell's deadpan delivery as Jane was highly effective but, ironically, it was as her secondary character the train (yes, the train) where Ms. Russell made me laugh out loud. Admit it. Your curiosity is piqued!
As Amelia, Sheila Rose had half a dozen very humorous moments, and her Mexican-lilted English was very endearing. Jason Robert Villarreal was hysterical as the Sheriff who seemed to gain his inspiration from the Deputy Dog cartoon character. Aaron Roberts stood out as Muz, and his scene introduction was my favorite. Gregory Lush played Croftus Thunder, a military officer, and Adrian Godinez played Corporal Crow, his faithful Irish/Indian companion. Mr. Lush and Mr. Godinez played off of each other very well, and each actor had their share of one-liners.
During intermission Mr. Coleman referred to Lee Jamison as his "Lucy." Having cast Ms. Jamison in a sturdy handful of his previous shows, it was easy to see why Mr. Coleman chose his muse for the ginger-haired role of Kate Thunder. Ms. Jamison had shown a talent for accents and dialects and her take on Kate's "Bryn Mawwwwwr" was no exception. Ms. Jamison showed no fear and went full throttle with her character's loudmouthed exuberance. Even when tied to a railroad track a la Penelope Pitstop, Ms. Jamison garnered laughter for her facial expressions. I enjoyed Ms. Jamison's performance most, however, when she was coupled with Andy Baldwin.
As Jack Rover, Andy Baldwin gave us a little bit of Texas Playboy with a side order of smothered, stacked and scattered Shakespeare. The second scene of Act 2 was the highlight of the show for me as Jack and Kate ran lines from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in Kate's dressing room. Kate wasn't exactly dressed in this scene but her black panties, garters and bustier gave Mr. Baldwin ample opportunity to showcase his comedic prowess. Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Jamison were a matched pair and an absolute joy to watch.
Though the story line was intricate and somewhat hard to follow, Wild Oats made for entertaining theater. The set and costuming (also by Mr. Coleman) succeeded in taking the audience back to the 1880's, and the large performances overcame the sluggish parts of the script. By the way, the actors threw cow patties at the audience on Monday night (Ok, so they were mounds of foam cut and painted to resemble cow patties, but still!). I was lucky enough to catch one of the brown steamers and as a gift I was given a custom-fitted cowboy hat.
Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through September 10th
Shows are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, & Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. There is also a Hooky Matinee Wednesday, September 7th at 2:00 pm.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatre3dallas.com or by calling the box office at 214-871-3300.