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BWW Review: THE WILD WEST (SH!T) SHOW at Joshua Tree Summer Theatre

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The cast of the play features Christopher Paul Schoonover, Ben Bees, Aidan Bosworth, Scott Clinkscales, Cathy Inscore, Jered Palmer, Kylie Robinson, and Lynelle White.

I set off northward to Joshua Tree for my very first live, up-close, in-person piece of theatre in a very, very long year. I'm sure my heart was beating several extra thumps each minute at the prospect. I trusted in my GPS, even when it told me to turn off from the safe highway onto a single lane dirt road. An address cited as "Lawrence Street" seemed less and less likely as my electronic guide took me through the scrubby desert for a couple more turns, but eventually her digital voice informed me I had reached my destination, and sure enough, other cars were parked along the dirt trail.

I spied a building and aimed towards it but found a couple of tables first. A gentleman had my name on his ticket list, and the next table supplied me with some refreshment. The trail led me to a most interesting space: an oval of raked sand about 40' X 20', with two adobe benches built along each of its long sides. Each of the four benches held five cushions for a maximum of 20 people, no negotiating. "Kewl," I thought. "This is really stepping out of the box." Since I have never really grown out of being a flower child of the 60's, theatre without prosceniums (or even a roof) greatly excites me!

The production was called The Wild West (Sh!t) Show, an original collaborative piece conceived and developed by Haley Kooyman. It is the first of four productions being produced by JT Theatre Under the Stars, sponsored by Wind Walkers and Thought Theatre.

Ms. Kooyman assembled nine high desert actors, including herself, and together they worked out a very silly melodrama which had something to do with finding and losing and stealing a will. Joining Hooyman in the cast were Christopher Paul Schoonover, Ben Bees, Aidan Bosworth, Scott Clinkscales, Cathy Inscore, Jered Palmer, Kylie Robinson, and Lynelle White.

The production is basically a collection of characters and moments without much in the way of a cohesive plot. Following a rousing square dance as the opening number, the various characters enter singly or in groups and introduce themselves; "I'm so-and-so, and I sure am in love with that one," etc. They establish some relationships, but no beginning, middle, end, or driving plot line except that there was some benefit to whoever ended up with "The Will." It reminded me a lot of Saturday Night Live where each week some of the country's finest improv comedians create new characters and some of those creations are funny and others, well, seemed funnier during rehearsals. I know that the high desert has a trove of improv performers, interesting venues, and the willingness to take a risk as the company has here, and for taking that risk, I heartily applaud them. Haley Kooyman and Jered Palmer stood out as strong, really funny performers. Others hoped that a quirky character walk or silly voice would bring laughs even when the material they were speaking wasn't particularly funny. The night I saw the show, that worked some of the time.

In short, the show wasn't one that I would revisit, but I will defend to the death their right to experiment and create, and I know that my own sense of humor is iconoclastic. This might be the highlight of the season for some viewers.

I can't wait to see the three remaining shows. The uniqueness of this venue is exciting, and the Joshua Tree landscape is exquisite! Next up is Shakespeare in Revue, conceived and directed by Miri Hunter. The show finds four would-be writers - Frances Beaumont, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd - elbow-to-elbow in a saloon, sharing their struggles to become the world's best playwright. It plays Fridays through Sundays, July 9 - 18.

Following that is Miles Gloriosus which was the name of a stock character from Roman comedies (Sondheim also used the character in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Gloriosus is an obnoxious, egotistical soldier who thinks he is universally revered but in reality, everyone despises him. Miles kidnaps a young slave woman on a whim. His slave Callidus launches a scheme to rescue the girl, free himself and destroy Miles' reputation. Can he do it? You'll have to wait until July 23 - August 1 to find out.

The season finishes with Eyeless in Colonus, a new play by Bruce Bonafede which reimagines the death of King Oedipus, now a blind beggar. In this modern retelling of the Oedipus story, the former King of Thebes arrives at a hidden grove in Colonus where he prepares to accept his fate. The production is directed by Howard Shangraw and features the blinding talents of Ben Benjamin Bees, Kurt Schauppner and Mackenzie Naylor. It plays August 6 - 15.

Wind Walkers Medicine Wheel is an intimate, one-of-a-kind outdoor venue nestled against the scenic northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park. The house opens at 7:30 p.m. and showtime is at 8:15 p.m. Seating is limited to 20 per performance. Tickets/info: windwalkersmedicinewheel.com or call 626.233.4768.


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