Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The simple yet authentic feel of the purposely dingy set (designed by David Bower) lends an intimacy to the small space, as a piano-playing crooner (D. Tony Carson) plays gently in the background and a handsome young barman (Collin Romero) readies the saloon for business and we meet some of the more colorful residents of this small town: Miss Lola (Yuri Lilia Faris), Miss Clementine (Sebrena Figueroa), and Miss Betsy (Charity Montoya). Their tight bodices and push-up bustiers leave us in no doubt as to their occupation, even without the butt whomper (I'm assured this is the correct name for it), which Miss Betsy casually pats in time to the music.
The sheriff (Mark J. Richman) and his deputy (John Shelton) stop by for a bite to eat, the former full of brash masculinity in stark contrast to the deputy's demeanor. A few moments later a stranger enters, thus beginning the story. As Miss Lola and her girls welcome the newcomer, the sheriff displays mistrust and suspicion, laying the foundation for the thrust of the play.
The script is very funny in parts, and the cast enjoy themselves tremendously with it. Yet within the humor is the sad truth, as valid today as it was thenthe danger when ignorance breeds fear.
Clueless as to the ladies' intent, the stranger, Colt (Bill Newell), pleads weariness with a desire of only a hot meal and a bed. The offer from one of the girls to "help a tired old gun pop right out of its holster," is lost on the young man. His innocent request for a "big ol' piece of meat with sauteed mushrooms and potatoes au gratin" leaves us laughing and in no doubt about his sexuality. The request for a glass of water, and not beer or whiskey, to accompany his meal rouses the sheriff and the young barman's suspicions even further.
High society, western style, is in the form of the Reverend Reid (Jon Smith), his wife Sarah (Elizabeth Olton), a prim stickler for etiquette, and their daughter, the ebullient and effervescent Miss Belle Reid (Ashley DeLeona), replete with a bonnet and sausage ringlets. The town drunk (Jerome Lovato), like the Greek chorus of long ago, exposes reality and rounds out this cast of twelve.
As the play unfolds, we see the sheriff's and the pastor's prurient interest in all things homosexual, while unashamedly whitewashing infidelity and prostitution in all things of the hetero inclination. Inevitably, this leads to accusations and to the eventual admittance by Colt of his sexual orientation. The suggestion by some to "string him up" becomes a double-edged sword when Colt declares there is another homosexual in their midst, whom no one has yet recognized and who must, in the interest of fairness, be "strung up" alongside him.
This revelation brings panic to the community, with each man passionately defending their masculinity with varying degrees of success, and a very revealing confession.
Gay or straight, Evans' message is loud and clear, and exceptionally visually impactful. A noose place a round a neck because that neck is attached to a non-heterosexual body shocked me when I saw it, and even now, a few days later, disturbs me still.
This is not a spoiler alert, but there is a twist in this tale I bet you won't see coming. From the gasps all around me, no one in the audience did either. Clever, very clever, it enhances the arc of the production.
Celebration Theater is the resident theater group at the Black Cat Cultural Center and, as a troupe of community players, is still in its infancy. Yet a wide range of experience and a variety of talents are evident within this predominantly LGBTQ family. The imbalance in acting experience, something I've known to comment on as being a distraction, in this case only adds to the play's appeal. There is something endearing about watching an ensemble come together and unite around a subject dear not only to them, but also to those close to them.
Florida's Governor De Santis' latest carrying-on (methinks this man doth protest too much) and the dangers attached to the Texas legislature's intended actions regarding human rights both show, despite all the work and progress made in recent years, much, much more needs to be done. The Saloon is a somewhat depressing reminder of the short distance traveled to date.
This play could have been about 10-15 minutes shorter, but I'm learning to live with that particular Evans foible. I wish this production could tour the country and be made mandatory for late elementary and early middle-schoolers. It won't of course, because there would be uproar. Knocking bigots out of their comfort zone and the righteous off their perch has always been a notoriously difficult thing to do.
The Saloon has a very short runif you don't catch it this weekend, it's gone .
The Saloon runs through March 26, 2022, at The NM Black Cat Cultural and Community Center, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. For tickets (also available at the door) and information, please call 702-449-7022 or visit www.ctcabq.com.