Way Out West is the Ross Valley Players Alternative Work (RAW). RVP tells us RAW is dedicated to developing and producing new plays by Bay Area playwrights while maintaining the highest standards in performance and production. Staged in the Barn Theater, Way Out West is a World Premiere by Playwright Joel Eis and is adapted from Nikolai Gogol’s popular The Inspector General, made famous in the movie with Danny Kaye. The Joel Eis rendition is a fast-paced farce in the tradition of Moliere and the Marx Brothers (hilarious combination).
The Joel Eis adaptation takes place in 1848-pre-Gold-Rush-San Francisco when it’s still a backwater frontier town. In fact, things are so slow the City officials open and read the mail for entertainment. That is before a pair of fast-talking con men are mistaken for government inspectors and take the locals for everything they’re worth!
The set, as designed by Michael Cohen and constructed by Eugene deChristopher and Bob Gudmundsson, has a real Old West ambience. There’s a large desk and chair Stage Right, another table with two chairs behind it, and a round table with additional chairs. At Center Stage is a red velvet settee with a large chandelier hanging high above the stage (used in the excellent Lighting Design by Tina Johnson). Stage Left is used for scene changes by the Actors (all, while staying in character, no less). The period-costumes are designed (with cleverly-handled costume changes) by Janice Koprowski, and the expert Sound Design is by Bruce Viera.
Here are a few thoughts on Way Out West from Director Buzz Halsing: “corrupt politicians;” “a Russian connection;” “Government officials illegally inspecting the mail;”. . . “Who knew how timely this play would be in 2017 America?
“Like most farces, Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General is constructed via a series of faulty assumptions, compounded by the failings of human nature. Our Playwright Joel Eis has created a new vision of this French-Russian Provençal that works just as well in dusty 1848 San Francisco. Now, before all you critics and historians out there start noticing some inconsistencies in our music, topical references, clothing, patterns of speech, etc., think of this as more of a concept piece.”
As Playwright Joel Eis tells us: “When the Russian court set its cap on a cultural upgrade, they [mimicked] the French Court, French manners, and French letters…thinking themselves sophisticated and ever-so-cool, when they were in fact no more than Russian bumpkins in French outfits. They were the perfect targets for the comic Playwright Nikolai Gogol, who took aim at their mixture of gullibility and chutzpah in his classic farce, The Inspector General.”
Acts 1 and 2 of this play are like two separate plays. The first one takes place in the home of Mayor Andy “Rabbit’s Foot” Monahan (played by Alex Ross, who stepped into the role without rehearsal, so he was reading from the script). Two crooks, Ridgeway (John Anthony Nolan) and Rex Raynard (Paul Stout) try to convince the mayor (and ultimately succeed) that one of them is the U.S. Inspector General. These are excellent performances.
The Mayor is supported by Pam Drummer-Williams, in a wonderful portrayal as his social-climbing wife Pearl Monahan, and Keara Reardon as the Mayor’s lovely daughter, Rose-Marie Monahan.
Special Credit goes to Maureen Coyne, who plays Maid Maxine with the deft-acting-experience it takes to narrate the action and backstory from the start through to the finish of Act 1. (Unfortunately, her pivoted-role playing gets slighted in Act 2.)
Judge Jed Carter (slyly played Richard Friedlander) is more of a card shark than a Magistrate, and Stacey Anderson is wonderfully sarcastic as Hortense Brewster – Director of Municipal Charities. Javier Alacon adapts his demeanor like a chameleon in his dual-roles as Lucius Potter – Chief of Police and Postmaster. Ida Mae Dobkins (Carrie-Fisher Coppolla) shows interest and hopefulness as one of the locals just waiting to be raked by the first con they encounter. The wife and daughter would, in fact, gladly welcome these reprobates to flatter them and pay them court – at any price.
The 1st act revolves around the family and the con men. The 2nd act revolves around the actual Inspector General, Ike Bobkins (Ralph Kalbus) and the Mayor’s daughter, who have a delightful romance.
Whether we’re watching and laughing at the antics of the con men or the gullibility of the locals, as superbly directed by Buzz Halsing, with Assistant Director Heather Gordon, the entire cast brings out the hilarity of this “noble farce” all the way to its wacky finish. Way Out West is a refreshing new comedy which you really ought to see!
Photography by Robin Jackson
Way Out West began April 7 and will run through April 23, 2017. Regular performances are scheduled for Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and Sunday Matinees are at 2:00 p.m. Audiences are invited to participate in Talk Back sessions with the playwright following all matinee performances.
For tickets to Way Out West, go online to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 800/838-9555, and tickets for School Groups, call 415/456-9555 extension 3. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.
And coming up next from May 19 to June18 will be Private Lives by Noel Coward and directed by Ken Rowland.
Flora Lynn Isaacson