Put a little mellow in your drama
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