BWW Review: GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST at Theatreworks
I admit it, melodrama is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I don't mean "melodrama" in the way you're thinking, with audiences booing and hissing the mustache-twirling villain as he ties some dewy blonde to the railroad tracks. I mean stories where everything-the characters, the situations, the emotions-are larger than life. It's one of the reasons I enjoy musicals so much; after all, what could be more melodramatic than singing out your feelings at the top of your lungs?
David Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West is such a melodrama. There are no white-hats and black-hats here, no clean-cut boundaries between the good guys and the bad guys. But it is a big story with big characters with passions to match, a story that is as engaging as it is implausible. Director Murray Ross understands that appeal, just as he recognizes that melodrama must have a grain of honesty and true emotional resonance at its sleeve-worn heart if it is to succeed. Only rarely (such as when the title character rails at one of her would-be suitors) does the action ring of insincerity and therefore caricature; the rest of the night is a genuine feast of romance and tragi-comic turns.
Caitlin Wise's Minnie is the solid core of this production, just as she is the matriarch of Camp Cloudy and its collection of rough miners. Boisterous, sentimental, and strong, Minnie occupies a curious position in the camp hierarchy. She is the leader of the group, while being set apart from it by her gender. Despite being the only woman surrounded by a sea of testosterone, the men around her wouldn't dream of taking so much as a kiss from her without permission, yet at the same time they almost invariably call her by the diminutive "Girl" rather than her proper name. Like Wendy with the Lost Boys she is loved, but more for what she represents than as an individual.
All the miners entertain dreams of romancing Minnie, but only two exhibit truly serious designs. The town sheriff Jack Rance (Jon Barker) loudly declares his intention to marry her, and is incensed when she flutters over a handsome stranger who wanders into camp. It doesn't take much effort to realize the interloper is the notorious bandit Ramirez (a suave Michael Gonring), who initially comes to rob Minnie's saloon but soon finds himself in a conflict of interest. The results that play out on Russell Parkman's rugged, reclaimed-wood set are filled with difficult choices, moral ambiguity, and emotional catharsis.
Though nearly three hours, Girl of the Golden West moves at a brisk, heightened pace that holds the interest (A pair of intermissions help to keep patience and bladders from feeling too tested), and is a fine conclusion for Theatreworks' fortieth season. THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST plays now through May 15th at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm with matinees Saturdays at 2:30 and Sundays at 4pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org.