By Jamie Bullins
Community Players, Friday, June 10, 2022, 7:30 pm.
Melodrama is a tried-and-true genre of the theatre which has been around since the 19th century and paints with big strokes that include big characters with big problems, and always comes around in the good guy’s favor. Something that’s particularly comforting today. This one is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, as we’re informed in the prologue. If you’re not a fan, don’t worry. The plot is lifted, but all the fancy talk and unfamiliar vocabulary is all gone.
The audience was greeted with a rustic, roughhewn environment, with a charming show curtain in the center, for the introduction of the story and its inhabitants. Thank you to Kadavy Barn Wood for the loan! With only a few pieces shifting in and out, the scene changes were minimal and quick and highlighted by title cards on an easel stage right, which cleverly punctuated the move from place to place. Especially clever was a metaphorical wink and nod to the audience as a choreographed moment in the jail cell found the cell door spinning around center stage. It was a tiny thing, but details matter oh so much.
The clothes were well chosen and reflective of the characters and their symbolic representations in the story. Our Sheriff Martin Green wasn’t clad in all white, but close enough. I do think Johnny Blood may have lost a piece of fringe off his jacket at some point, thanks to Sister Mary Jo (Lizzy Veverka) for picking it up. That always annoys the heck out of me when things unexpectedly fall or fall off on stage and performers just pretend not to notice it. It is a sign of a seasoned and aware artist to recognize the distraction and simply pick it up. My apologies for that soapbox moment. Kudos especially to Jamie Ulmer (director, choreographer, scenic and lighting designer) particularly for the lighting design. The cues and color were parallel to the heightened sensibilities of the melodrama, almost a character in and of itself.
The ensemble was small but fierce. Everyone was committed to the larger than life required by the genre. But, not so over the top to overshadow the story and the music. Additionally, recognition must be given here to the orchestra (Judy Vrbka, Jeff Davis, Tyler Welch, Mike Yunghans, Ethan Jensen) for their addition to the evening. They play tight, bright, and with panache. As a group, these were actors who sing, not what one might call singers per se. And I don’t mean that as a dig. This style of show doesn’t require Idina Menzel to pull it off. Carry a tune, check. Connect the music to your character, check. Sell the song, check. Tell the story, check. There’s Johnny Blood (Nick Sutphin), charming, funny, nice timing, and a clear dedication to his love, Bella Rose (Marikita Saure), the hooker with a heart of gold, super funny with a winning smile and a willingness to do anything (and I mean anything) for love. Our hero, Sheriff Martin Green (John Francis), brave, quick-witted, charming, and down-home. His love, our damsel in distress (or is that Johnny?), is Susanna aka Sister Mary Jo, torn between her love of the church and this man she just met. She’s charming and conflicted and, eventually, sweet in her own way, once her surface shell cracks open. But love will do that to ya. And our villain, Governor Von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (had to doublecheck that, whew) is clearly that, until the end when he comes out and wishes everyone well, so not a bad guy through and through after all. And with his handwringing and lustful desires, which also give way to love (sorta), he’s just icky. It is worth the trip to Beatrice just to watch Callan Williams work his name into his songs. Hilarious.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, again and again, the theatre here in Nebraska has heart. You remind me consistently that each of you wants to be here, on this stage, putting in the work with a palpable enthusiasm. Thank you, Community Players, keep telling your stories.
If you go: You can catch Desperate Measures June 10-12, 17-19, Fridays/Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.
Jamie Bullins is on the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for almost 30 years now.
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