Story: A traveling theatrical troupe makes a stop in Mule Shoe, Texas, an outpost for trickery and shenanigans in the wild West of the 19th century. A member of the troupe, intrepid thespian Harry Thunder, has avoided seeing his dear old dad, Colonel Thunder of the Seventh Cavalry, since young Harry was kicked out of West Point. Now, unbeknownst to each other, they’ve both arrived in Mule Shoe, home of the Colonel’s lovely niece, Kate Thunder.
Harry’s pal, Jack Rover, is a ladies’ man with a penchant for quoting The Bard and who has been impersonating Harry. Kate is thunderstruck, so to speak, by the dashing charmer Jack, aka Harry, and quickly falls in love with him. This is good for Jack, since Kate is heir to her late father’s sprawling ranch and fortune. That inheritance has caught the treacherous eye of Ephraim, the local preacher, who lusts after Kate’s money as well as Kate herself.
Another town villain, land-owner Ike Gammon, is intent on getting his hands on as much property in the territory as he can, legally or otherwise. His fetching daughter Jane strikes up a fancy for Harry, while his slow-witted son Sim just seems overwhelmed by life.
Will Harry and the Colonel reconcile with the help of the Colonel’s trusty Irish Indian guide Crow? Will the Colonel find out more about his own life, including the woman he loved and lost? Will Kate get her man Harry, or rather Jack, or fall victim to the wily clutches of Ike Gammon and Ephraim? Shudders!
Highlights: Playwright James McLure in 1984 updated John O’Keefe’s 18th century work into a 20th century comedy with a 19th century melodrama setting that St. Louis Shakespeare has made into an amusing and infectious 21st century production.
With stiff upper lips and coy double entendres referencing other areas of the human anatomy, Wild Oats is a rip-roarin’, gun-totin’, back-of-hand-to-the-forehead, wily adventure that plays out deliciously behind the red velvet curtains adorning the Ivory Theatre stage. Director Shaun Sheley and cast chew up McLure’s delectably tasty dialogue for two hours of opry shenanigans filled with knee-slappin' humor and rib-ticklin’ good times.
Other Info: St. Louis Shakespeare excels at farce and comic exaggeration and is at its best when presenting unusual, rarely performed theatrical gems. That’s the case with McLure’s engaging adaptation of O’Keefe’s enduring play that pits good-guy underdogs against nefarious Establishment types. Placing the story in the Old West invites a melodramatic interpretation that Sheley and his frolicsome players seize for the enjoyment of their audience.
Jeff Roberts’ sound design throws in a little zydeco, some piano roll bits and all manner of entertaining tunes to put everyone in a good mood as the troupe tells its comic tale. Also enhancing the presentation is the wistful cartoon set designed by Jason Townes that includes a precious backdrop of a train coming down tracks headed for Nell, er, Kate tied down by the bad guys, with lighting designer Steve Miller beaming oncoming locomotive lights on our endangered heroine.
Taylor Donham’s costumes are highlighted by the desert boots (why not?) worn by Joey Combs as embattled Mexican tenant Morales and the sundry fancy togs favored by fashionista Harry. Linda Lawson provides amusing props, while Sheley adds some well-timed and judiciously applied fight choreography.
While the pacing occasionally lags, notably toward the end of the first act, Sheley’s performers keep the entertainment engine generally purring with a finely tuned octane of comic fuel. Look no further than Nicole Angeli for an example of engaging comedy. Her delivery of Kate’s snappy dialogue as well as her palate of varied facial expressions set a high mark for this silly, saucy rendition.
Michael Pierce is lots o’ fun as the foppish but determined Harry, looking conspicuous in his ‘banana’ suit on the dusty streets of Mule Shoe but inspired in his pursuit of the lovely Jane, the latter played amusingly by Ashley Bauman. Anthony Winninger revels in his role as the greedy Ike Gammon, who tramples tenants but can’t control his own offspring, and Chuck Winning brings a smile as Ike’s easily confused son Sim.
John Wolbers is priceless as Crow, the Indian guide with the thick Irish brogue and red wig who knows about the Colonel’s checkered past, at least part of it, while John Foughty gets the best lines (“She’s so ugly she could make a freight train take a dirt road”) as Colonel Thunder and delivers them with his best Yosemite Sam impression.
Erik Kuhn is a delight as the Bard-quoting and dashing Jack Rover, who turns admirable after falling for the appealing Kate Thunder, and Christopher LaBanca is a hoot as the lecherous, licentious preacher Ephraim. Jamie Eros is a right proper Amelia, who plays a big part in the story’s coincidences, while Wolbers pairs with Brian Rolf as a duo of horse opera impresarios of dubious nature. Brandon Riley and Hannah Pauluhn finely fill out the ensemble.
The cast helps the audience know whether to cheer or boo with deftly hoisted placards from either side of the stage, but you’ll know when to laugh easily enough with this good-hearted romp of a yarn.
Play: Wild Oats
Company: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue
Dates: August 27, 28, 29, 30
Tickets: $15-$20; contact 361-5664 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson