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West Out West Review

New Take on an Old Story

Address: 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.- Marin Art & Garden Center
Ross, CA 94957
Phone: 415-456-9555  ext. 1

Way Out West—New Take on a Timeless Tale

Keara Reardon as Rose-Marie Monahan, the mayor's daughter, and Paul Stout as Rex Reynard, the smooth-talking con artist

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Robin Jackson

RAW—Ross Alternative Works—is a novel concept. The Ross Valley Players gives a playwright, either one with experience or a novice, an opportunity to present a new work in a full-scale production on stage with a live audience so they can gauge reaction and see how well a production works. It’s a learning experience for the author, but for the audience, it’s an unknown. It might be a polished work destined for greatness, or it could be a work in progress with a long way to go. It’s a RVP tradition that originated in the 1930s, and in its current iteration, RAW “workshops” a script once a year as part of its subscription season.

RAW’s current production, Way Out West, by Joel Eis, is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s comedy The Government Inspector, which was published in 1836. Way Out West, however, is set in early San Francisco before the Gold Rush, when it was still a village, and it features a cast of stock characters, including a know-it-all mayor, a couple of rubes and a con man. The action hinges on a misunderstanding that occurs when corrupt local government officials mistake a gambler on the run for a government inspector who wants to check their books—something they’re desperate to avoid. While Gogol’s play was a finely-honed satire that exposed corruption in Czarist Russia’s bureaucracy, Way Out West takes place in a simpler, more rustic setting with characters who are big fish in a very small pond, when California’s fledgling government was just getting started. Without the layers of complexity that provided the substance for Gogol’s work, Eis’ play is more farce than satire.

Photo above: (l. to r.) Stacey Anderson as Hortense Brewster, Javier Alarcon as Lucius Potter and Ralph Kalbus as Ike Bobkins

Way Out West has a cast of competent actors. Alex Ross is Mayor Andy “Rabbit Foot” Monahan, and on opening night, he played the role holding book, following a last-minute cast change. Pam Drummer-Williams plays his social-climbing wife in an environment where there’s nowhere to climb, and Paul Stout portrays the con man, Rex Reynard, who takes full advantage of targets who should know better know better but don’t and willingly play into his hands. Javier Alarcon plays a bumbling Lucius Potter, who is both the chief of police and the postmaster, and Maureen Coyne, as the maid Maxine, makes some keen observations about the behavior she witnesses. The actors bring enthusiasm to their roles, which are more caricatures than fully-developed characters, with the exaggerated personality traits that are typical in farce.

Photo: Pam Drummer-Williams as Pearl Monahan

Buzz Halsing does an admirable job of directing, although the play lacks the fast-paced action and slapstick missteps one might expect in a full-fledged farce. Rather, the play tends to be talky, as two groups of scammers try to outsmart each other. The play contains some very clever lines, and greed, lust and stupidity—the human failings it seeks to expose— are on full display. The requisite slamming doors, a hallmark of farce, add to the comedy, and little details, like music faintly playing in the background during a hotel-room scene, create atmosphere appropriate for the play’s era.

Photo: Maureen Coyne as Maxine

Way Out West runs through April 23 at the Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center and offers talkbacks on Sunday, April 16, and Sunday, April 23, providing an opportunity for audience members to meet the director, playwright and actors, ask questions and make comments about the play, thus giving valuable feedback and contributing to the process. It’s a rare experience that can make attending a play in the making worthwhile.

To find out more about RAW and to purchase tickets, go to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call the box office at 415-456-9555.

This is Ross Valley Players 87th season, and it returns to its regular Mainstage productions on May 19, with the opening of a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives.