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Wild Oats
by James McLure
Directed by Shaun Sheley
St. Louis Shakespeare
August 22, 2015

Nicole Angeli, Erik Kuhn Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Nicole Angeli, Erik Kuhn
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

There’s a lot more Shakespeare in Wild Oats than you may initially think. While not written by the Bard himself, the latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare relies a great deal on quotes from his work. An uproarious, silly Wild West comic melodrama, this is a show that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s kind of the point.

There’s a lot of story here. Updated and adapted from John O’Keeffe’s 18th Century comedy, Wild Oats takes the action out West, with a large cast, larger-than-life characters and mile-a-minute laughs.  It’s a story of mistaken identity, unexpected love, long-lost relatives, and of course the cartoonish villains.  The wildly convoluted story is somewhat difficult to describe without spoiling the fun. The main characters include the blustering Colonel Thunder (John Foughty), whose son Harry (Michael Pierce) has gone back East, failed out of West Point and become an actor and somewhat of a dandy.  He’s made friends with fellow itinerant actor Jack Rover (Erik Kuhn), who has a penchant for quoting Shakespeare. When Harry and Jack go their separate ways, they both end up in the same town, along with Harry’s estranged father and feisty cousin Kate (Nicole Angeli), whom the Colonel is hoping Harry will marry. There’s also the Colonel’s trusty “Indian guide”, Crow (John Wolbers), who has red braids and speaks with an Irish accent, who seems to know more about the Colonel’s long-lost love, Amelia (Jamie Eros), than he lets on. The plot also includes the requisite bad guys, such as the scheming Ephraim (Christopher LaBanca), a would-be minister who operates his own exclusive sect, and who lusts after Jane (Ashley Bauman), daughter of the show’s other villain, the unscrupulous landlord Ike Gammon (Anthony Wininger). There are more characters here than can be easily named, but I’ll just say that things get weirder and weirder as the story goes on, with the expected implausible conclusions that go with the territory in an outrageous farce such as this.

The point of a show like this is comedy, and comedy requires timing and precision. That’s all here in this very well-staged and directed production. It’s one of those shows that throws so many jokes at the audience with the idea that they’re bound to laugh at some of them. It’s at turns silly and clever, with melodrama conventions such as the damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks, mustache-twirling villains, and more.  There’s also the fun convention of having the stagehands hold up signs instructing the audience to cheer, boo, and more at various times throughout the show. It’s all put together with a strong sense of fun, and period flavor provided by Jason Townes’s colorful versatile set and Tayor Donham’s detailed, character-specific costumes.

The cast is energetic and amiable, and very enthusiastic.  The overall upbeat atmosphere of the show is augmented by the performances, with Kuhn and Angeli making an excellent team as the unlikely love interests, Jack and Kate. The rough-around-the-edges Kate tries and fails to act the refined lady, and Angeli portrays this dilemma with excellent comic timing, especially in a fun scene in which she and Kuhn try to rehearse a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. Kuhn makes an ideal melodramatic hero, also working well with Pierce as the hilariously dandified Harry, and Foughty, who’s a joy as the perpetually confused Colonel. Other standouts including Wininger and LaBanca at their oily best as villains Ike and Ephraim, Bauman as the spunky Jane, and Wolbers in several roles including the scheming Crow, and one half of pair of delightfully ridiculous theatrical impresarios, Kliege (Brian Rolf) and Lieko (Wolbers).  The whole ensemble seems to be having a great deal of fun in this play, and that fun is certainly infectious.

Wild Oats is a silly play in the best sense of the word. It’s supposed to be goofy, over-the-top, and full of ridiculous coincidences, to highly comedic effect. The cast and crew at St. Louis Shakespeare have put together an immensely entertaining, fast-moving show that’s sure to bring lots of laughs.

John Foughty, Erik Kuhn, Michael Pierce Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

John Foughty, Erik Kuhn, Michael Pierce
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Wild Oats at the Ivory Theatre until August 30th, 2015

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