THE BRIDGES OF SANTA FE COUNTY
Santa Fe Playhouse presents The Bridges of Santa Fe County
Pasatiempo: Can you explain the title? What bridge are you talking about?
Primm: The bridge that crosses the little arroyo between one side of Fort Marcy Park and the other has been condemned. They have to reroute all the foot traffic this year. The problem our characters face is that Fiesta might be canceled because there’s no bridge to Zozobra, so what are they going to do? Pasa: Those are some high stakes.
Irving: It gets to serve as a metaphor for crumbling infrastructure everywhere.
Pasa: Usually when you think of bridges, you think of crossing over water, but in this case it’s over a dry ditch.
Primm: Well, I’m afraid of La Llorona. This is a perpetual fear for me, seeing as how I live in Santa Fe, but I can’t speak for everyone.
Irving: If you’re not afraid, you’re not paying attention. Pasa: Vaughn, as a newbie to melodrama, what have you learned?
Irving: The audience is a character. It’s not just interactive — the audience actually has lines. We expect them to cheer and boo and hiss, to follow that lead. And the actors speak to the audience not just as an aside, like in Shakespeare or Greek theater, but actually address the audience directly to make sure they understand that they’re coming on this journey with you in a more active way than in a normal play.
Pasa: In melodrama there is always a hero and a villain. Who are the good guys and bad guys this year?
Primm: That’s a tricky question to answer. Last year we had five villains. One of the ideas we had going in this year is that the villain doesn’t know he’s the villain, and there is no hero. Pasa: That’s quite a twist on the formula.
Primm: Well, we have a villainess. Her name is Corella de Villa. The actress who plays her is here …
Katie Johnson: I play Corella de Villa. She’s a rich out-of-towner who comes in and says, “You’re doing this and this wrong, and here’s how you should fix it my way.” As Santa Fe does with these kinds of people, the residents chew me up and spit me out.
Irving: She has henchmen — Sheriff Headly Lispero and Deputy F. Dusty Winderton, who is played by Cliff Russell. He’s been in something like 15 melodramas. And technically we do have a hero, but he’s not a stock hero at all.
Pasa: What are some of the other storylines, aside from the condemned bridge?
Primm: One of the writers really had a bone to pick with the Santa Fe Parking Division. There are terrifically awkward jokes about the general plan to make up $15 million in lost revenue by collecting parking fines. The play is set about 100 years ago, so another thing that’s happening is that the telephone has just come to Santa Fe.
Irving: That is painstakingly historically accurate, though there’s some creative anachronism involved. There are also some complaints about the wi-fi waves disturbing our health and happiness. You might also have noticed we’re in a national election year, so no spoilers, but that might play a role in the show. Some important national issues come home to meet some important Santa Fe issues. There is a lot of civil disobedience. Everyone has a cause, but their causes aren’t necessarily aligned very well. There are a lot of passionate people, passionate about very specific passions. Santa Fe has a touchy history, and that comes up.
Primm: Things snowball. One protest leads to another crackdown leads to another protest. I’m not sure I want to say this but … everyone in Santa Fe winds up in jail.
Pasa: What are some of the issues people are protesting? Are you going to address the Native Lives Matter protests that happened last year at Fiestas?
Irving: That was one of our inspirations for all the protests in the show. We want to do what we can to heal those rifts with humor, even if it’s just a chance to say, “Here are the things. Let’s laugh and have fun together while not ignoring the fact that there’s tension and things could be better, and we could relate to each other in more humane ways — with humor instead of drama, if you will.” Pasa: Is there anything you can tell us about the writers? Please?
Primm: They’re really just a bunch of slovenly drunkards. Courageously anonymous slovenly drunkards. Pasa: Are they funny?
Primm: Yes. After the interview, Pasatiempo intercepted Cliff Russell on his way to rehearsal. He was happy to talk about his role and was quite a bit more forthcoming than his directors.
“In other melodramas I’ve been Jorge R.R. Martinez, a gay barber, and an eighty-year-old third grader who can’t read,” he said. “This year I play a very old deputy who is savvy but not too savvy, and I get disguised as Donaldo Harumph. I’ve been writing some choice things so that hopefully people will know that he’s an idiot. I’ve got some new stuff for tonight that I just wrote.”