Review of Way Out West
By Joel D. Eis
Directed by Buzz Halsing
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Alternative Works (Ross Valley Players)
RUN: April 7 – 23, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars
(April 14, 2017)
Loosely based on Nickolai Gogol’s The Inspector General, it is 1848 in the frontier outpost of San Francisco, where corrupt officials hear that an incognito inspector will be arriving in town. Terrified, the local yokels fall over themselves, at times quite literally, to please the newcomer in town, hoping for a positive report back to the capital. This campy, nostalgic romp would fit right in as a street performance in Virginia City, with a gunslinger mayor and mysterious stranger. The overacting shifts between amusing and artificial, leaving an uneven impression, but overall it is an entertaining play and imaginative retelling of Gogol’s satire.
Pam Drummer-Williams as Pearl Monahan is a treat in this production—she sashays through scenes as an enthusiastic social climber who is far too much woman for any man in the room, gathering laughs with each twitch of her elaborate fan. Maureen Coyne as Maxine creates a clever, worldly maid whose perpetual eye rolls and cynical one liners keep the story from losing momentum. Country bumpkins Ike Bobkins (Ralph Kalbus) and Ida May Dobkins (Carrie Fisher-Coppola) find a balance of waddling caricatures and carefully crafted timing in their portrayals.
The strength of Way Out West is in the relationship between Ridgeway (John Anthony Nolan) and partner in crime Rex Reynard (Paul Stout) long-time friends who need a break from each other, but are forced into increased intimacy. Their sniping, brawls, and tender moments have the ring of realism; it feels like they have been companions for years, which grounds the nonsensical characters who inhabit this mythological San Francisco. A particularly well-done moment was at the hotel, after arguing over who should portray servant and master, Ridgeway opens the door to find half the cast peering through expectantly, only to have him shut it in their faces, turning away in disgust at what he has to put up with.
Way Out West is reliant on Bruce Vieira’s sound design, which is both well done, such as the ambient background of a saloon to set the scene and carriage noises in the street, and distracting with pratfalls that do not need to be there—directed by Buzz Halsing, the actors are capable of being effective in physical comedy without accompaniment. Eugene De Christopher’s set design is marvelous; I have been on tours of mansions from the time period, and it looks like a parlour that would have been in use by a pretentious mayor, with wainscoting, deep burgundy walls, stiff furnishings, and Classical flair. For a relaxed comedy, Janice Koprowski’s costume designs are quite elaborate, from a smoking jacket to multiple gowns for Rose-Marie Monahan.
Way Out West is outrageous tomfoolery with a few good laughs that may be a trifle too ridiculous for some audience members. It could benefit from additional nuances to the shenanigans onstage, but is a fun jaunt through “Old West” San Francisco.