January 25 provided the opportunity to enjoy polarized, not polarizing, plays in the Panhandle: the opera Our Town at WTAMU; Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Amarillo Little Theatre’s Main Stage.
The only commonality is that each is an iteration of a classic. Otherwise, the contrast between the two, intense dramatic opera and loosely-defined mystery comedy was so stark as to produce cultural whiplash.
The opera Our Town, conveniently sequential to the fall WTAMU theatrical production, is a Ned Rorem distillation of Wilder’s play.
The opera, as well as the play, portrays Americana as a cycle of life, a New England Everyman where the ordinary is extolled as heroic as all simply try to cope with this epic of the everyday until all finish the course.
The music wasn’t for amateurs. Tenor Justin Williamson, as the Stage Manager, had five arias! But, due to the superlative direction of Sarah Beckham-Turner, no one voice or role otherwise dominated, as this is the saga of how individual identity is ultimately subsumed into the greater whole.
Three Fundamentalist hymns served both as adornment and exposition, all parts harmoniously blending, although the church choral master, the town’s token but always inebriated artist, didn’t think so at choir practice, exhorting his vocalists to “Leave Shouting to the Methodists!”
The acting was restrained, therefore relatable. The genius of the both the play and the opera is that audience members find themselves in the characters.
Minimalism also defined the set design, much like Isamu Noguchi’s award-winning set for the ballet Appalachian Spring.
Disparate voices, each having their own song, somehow coalesce in communal harmony as ultimately Our Town, over peaks and through valleys, pulses inexorably forward. Life goes on.
The opera was profound, an appropriate lyrical companion to the stage play. Congrats to SBT for a deft touch in directing, and to guest conductor Keith Chambers for persuading a young group artists and musicians to blend rather than showcase their talent.
This area looks forward to further productions from the director, and from very young James Reilly Turner, who now will always have an operatic credit on his resume.
In the words of Monty Python, “Now for sometime completely different!” Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is a mash-up between Sherlock Holmes and the Three Stooges, who seem to have Dissociative Identity Disorder as they morph through some forty-two characters between them.
The plot’s theme parallels Dracula: Risen from the Grave. Lord Baskerville’s death, his face a rictus of terror surrounded by giant paw prints inspires the notion of the hound’s return to the Moors and thus a call to Holmes.
The plot thickens upon the arrival of the last Baskerville heir, a “Howdy Ya’ll” Texan played by Brooks Boyett. Well, we could understand him, especially against the spectrum of English dialects and accents from Cockney to Oxfordian.
Comedic chemistry proved most reactive while timing was down to the nano-second. Nothing elementary about this play as it required seasoned, talented actors, astute direction, and a skillful stage crew to transform the cast during frenetic scene changes. Director Callie Hisek in this play definitely exhibited a flair for the funny, as she did for the provocative in Ada and the Engine.
Congratulations to ALT for a run of sold-out performances. As community theatres across the country exist on life supports, ALT, because of shows like this, is vibrant and thriving.
The fact that we, in Bomb City, can in one day see such a diversity of quality theatre and opera as Our Town and Baskerville, makes it easy to say, and without drama, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”