Put a lit­tle mel­low in your drama

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

As you pre­pare for this week­end and next week’s Fi­esta de Santa Fe, take the time to pen­cil in a few hours be­tween now and the Des­file de la Gente or the His­tor­i­cal/Hys­ter­i­cal Pa­rade to wit­ness what I like to call “Hot Box Time Ma­chine.” No, it’s not the new­est porn link dis­cov­ered on New Mex­ico Sec­re­tary of State Mary Her­rera’s com­puter (thanks to hack­ers, we are told). It’s a pot ref­er­ence — you know, doobage, Mary Jane, bud, mar­i­juana — some­thing you’ll find plenty of in this year’s Fi­esta Melo­drama at the Santa Fe Play­house.

Rest­ing some­where be­tween re­al­ity and re­venge fan­tasy circa 1910 and 2010, this year’s melo­drama is more than a slight skew­er­ing of Santa Fe pol­i­tics, cul­ture, and celebrity. It’s an out­right blood­bath. And it’s worth ev­ery awk­ward moment in the dark.

Those mo­ments wouldn’t have been so awk­ward at the per­for­mance I at­tended had the au­di­ence de­cided to play along, urged on by in­struc­tions from the stage be­fore the per­for­mance and an ad­den­dum to the play­bill ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled “The Con­cise Com­pleat Heck­ler … A User’s Guide to Max­i­mum Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2010 Fi­esta Melo­drama.” In­stead, save for a few brave souls, au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion was about as en­thu­si­as­tic as the Tues­day­morn­ing queue at DWI court.

Peanut-gallery ap­a­thy aside, the 15-mem­ber cast de­liv­ered a won­der­ful evening of laughs that stayed with me long af­ter the show ended. Here’s the part where I come clean: be­fore the Aug. 27 per­for­mance, I was a Fi­esta Melo­drama vir­gin, even af­ter liv­ing here for 25 years. If that low­ers my na­tive-Santa Fe sta­tus, so be it. In my de­fense, how­ever, I do keep can­vas shop­ping bags in my back seat. I even use them some­times. And I re­li­giously ad­mon­ish peo­ple who spell “green chile” with an “i” at the end. Are we cool?

This year’s melo­drama finds a well-mean­ing sci­en­tist named Schus­ter — rather than Shus­ter, as the artist’s name is spelled — played by Ryan Kochevar. He’s at the cross­roads of ro­mance and cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion, spurred by a dream to build an ephemeral — and flammable — mon­u­ment to hu­man suf­fer­ing. Dur­ing his quest to al­le­vi­ate the pains of the lo­cal cit­i­zenry by build­ing his mag­nif­i­cent Zo­zo­bra, Schus­ter is ini­tially un­aware that evil forces are afoot — or, in this case, a-mus­tache. Per­haps one of the three al­ter­nate ti­tles for the play ex­plains it best: “How a Per­ni­cious Pil­ferer, His Pro­fane Pro­tege, and His Pul­chri­tudi­nous Paramour Prop­a­gate a Plot to Pur­loin the Pre­scrip­tive Pot Prof­its of a Perky Pair of Planters, Plun­der the Pen­nies of a Piti­ful Pack of Per­form­ing Pupils, and Per­suade the Pop­u­lace to Pay for the Prom­ise of Peace and Pros­per­ity by Plug­ging Pe­sos Into a Pix­i­lated Pro­fes­sor’s Py­rotech­nic Pup­pet.”

I would be re­miss in re­veal­ing too many plot points, be­cause dis­cov­er­ing them on one’s own lies at the heart of the pro­duc­tion’s ap­peal. Writ­ten, as al­ways, by an anony­mous cadre of lo­cal scribes, this year’s melo­drama doesn’t touch nerves so much as tickle them to the point of wan­ton de­sire. You know the drill: “Don’t! Stop! Please! Don’t … stop … please. Please don’t stop!”

You can glean enough from the char­ac­ters on tap and the play’s al­ter­nate ti­tles to know that govern­ment cor­rup­tion, med­i­cal mar­i­juana, a school for the arts (or two), and the an­nual burn­ing aof Will Shus­ter’s Zo­zo­bra con­verge in a story line rife with satire and silli­ness.

Tommy Ro­man as Gov. Beard Richer­man may look more like Tevye from Fid­dler on the Roof than Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mex­ico, but he hams it up ea­gerly as a man who seizes ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to bathe in the lime­light — even if it casts a sear­ing, self-de­feat­ing glow. And he gets to Meet the Press!

En­ter Knotty Pine, a lo­cal arts and ed­u­ca­tion re­porter who eerily re­sem­bles a cer­tain staff mem­ber at The New Mex­i­can. From the cow­boy hat to the spec­ta­cles and sports jacket, many who know this man will do a dou­ble take. Be­yond the cos­tume and dead-on di­a­logue, ac­tor Adam Frank ab­sorbs the role, right down to the re­porter’s ges­tures and gen­eral coun­te­nance. My guest and I were left won­der­ing if my col­league had a se­cret pro­tégé hid­den away in a walk-in closet lined with Three Stooges posters and pinup girls.

The star of the show is un­doubt­edly Kochevar as Schus­ter. Part mad sci­en­tist, part lov­able nerd, Schus­ter is the char­ac­ter on which ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one hinges. Sport­ing a lab coat and sus­penders, he brings a pow­er­ful sweet­ness, shy­ness, goofi­ness, and in­no­cence to the role while still grasp­ing the im­por­tance of shar­ing the stage with his cast mates.

When Kochevar ap­pears with the other ac­tors, whether they play his cannabis-grow­ing love in­ter­est, Old Man Gloom, or the vil­lain of the story (who looks like mus­ta­chioed ma­gi­cian Doug Hen­ning af­ter be­ing mugged by a New Age guru and left to die in the

Cue the or­gan mu­sic: Cristina Vigil, Scott Shuker, Ryan Kochevar, and Melissa Pip­pin-Car­son

2010 Fi­esta Melo­drama:

Reefer Mel­low Drama

Santa Fe Play­house, Aug. 27

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