Oakton High School
Come now, cowboys and crusaders, heroes and villains, to Calamity Jane’s Man-Trap Saloon at James Madison High School in its production of Deadwood Dick!
Written by Tom Taggart and based on Edward L. Wheeler’s 19th century book series of the same name, Deadwood Dick takes place in the town of Deadwood Gulch, where the residents are juggling no-good outlaws, long-lost family, gun-slinging heroes, and a whole lot of chaos.
As Ned Harris, the riveting Jonah Uffelman had all eyes on him from the moment he kicked through the saloon doors. Accompanied by the equally electric Bailey Pavitt-Graff, portraying Wild Bill Hickok, this duo commanded the stage separately and together. This pair of ‘pards’ played off each other and the audience constantly, especially when reluctantly relinquishing their humorously hidden weaponry. With strong southern accents and gun twirling talent, Uffelman and Pavitt-Graff maintained high energy throughout the show, whether it was a hoe-down showdown or a serious shoot-out.
Kate Townsend, playing the angel-iferous Lily Blossom, contrasted the crowd of cowboys with her innocent portrayal. Though Townsend showcased Lily’s reserved nature, she maintained a strong presence and never faded into the background of any scene. From dancing with the kind Vasilli (Mark Uchitel) to hugging her sister Rose (Mary Ulses,) Townsend shone through her interactions with the other actors.
Provoking the heroes of the show, and the audience, was Erik Bilawski as Black’n Red, whose portrayal was filled with mustache-stroking malice. Whether he was sauntering across the stage or fiendishly forming schemes, Bilawski’s villainous performance sent the audience into a popcorn throwing frenzy.
No scene would be complete without the addition of the town residents: miners, cowboys, and saloon girls alike. Their campy, overexaggerated movements and unique character choices made each one of them stand out. The energy from the ensemble never dipped, even when dancing along to the violin solo composed and performed by Pavitt-Graff during intermission.
Led by Luca Lunquist, the set was one of the most impressive aspects of the show. Calamity Jane’s Man-Trap Saloon extended across the whole stage, with several different entrances and exits that added to the fast-paced action. Whether actors were slipping through the secret door or diving across the bar, they were able to use the entire space. The set crew and paint crew (Leslie Payne, Jonah Uffelman) worked together to create a delightfully detailed set that brought Deadwood Gulch to life.
The props crew (Jay Keller, Knox Rodriguez, Mia Romer) made sure that every prop fit into the Wild West setting. From a stained and worn out looking legal document covered in bullet holes, to bottles and glasses filled with real liquid, every single prop aided in creating the saloon atmosphere. The props enhanced the comedy of the entire cast, especially through the use of fake weapons. In this western town, there was no shortage of guns, including both a ludicrously long gun to a senselessly small one, designed to fit in the mouth. The props crew provided each actor with props that strengthened their performances and added to the comedy.
Great whale o’ Jonah! The company of Deadwood Dick at James Madison High School is wanted… for putting on an unforgettable show!
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Welcome to Deadwood Gulch. In this over-the-top Western town, rowdy cowboys stomp along to ragtime and six-shooter showdowns tinge the air with suspense and excitement. So, shine your spurs, swig your beer, and give your loudest yee-haw: James Madison High School busts down the saloon doors with their rip riding, gunslinging performance of Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold.
Originally a series of late-19th century pulp fiction dime novels by Edward L. Wheeler, Tom Taggart adapted these stories in 2010 in the style of a sensationalized, comedic neo-melodrama. Center stage is Ned Harris, alias Deadwood Dick, the dashing hero who makes daring escapes and duels with devils, risking it all for love. Supported by a quirky cast of characters, he ultimately prevails against the villains and perils that challenge him.
Despite the show’s three-hour length, the cast maintained an enthusiastic energy. Far from allowing themselves to be distracted by the cheering, booing, and flying popcorn from the audience, the actors used it to enhance their performances - improvising, riffing, and matching the crowd’s vitality with their dramatic, overexaggerated acting style. Combined with smooth transitions and excellent timing all around, this resulted in a fast-paced, witty, and engaging show.
Jonah Uffelman stole the spotlight, portraying Ned Harris with a valiant air and dauntless passion. Capturing this Old West knight-errant with seeming ease, Uffelman deftly maneuvered between confidence when having the upper hand in standoffs, and genuine despair when the tables turned at his arrest, using intense expressions of anger and shock, wistful glances, and a cool swagger to communicate his emotions clearly. Perhaps most noteworthy was the chemistry between Uffelman and his castmates, both his dependable camaraderie with Wild Bill Hickok (Bailey Pavitt-Graff), and the fierce tension with Black’n Red (Erik Bilawski). Bilawski himself embraced his villainous character; whether slyly plotting with Zoe Miller’s Calamity Jane, standing toe-to-toe with Ned Harris, or reveling in the audience’s jeers as he caught popcorn in his hat, he skillfully walked the line between absurd villainy and true evil. With an obnoxious saunter, conniving mustache twirl, and menacing chortle, Bilawski perfectly portrayed this nefarious ne’er do well.
In a play of characters with exaggerated acting styles, gruff voices, and questionable morality, Kate Townsend as Lily Blossom grounded the show with much needed humanity and innocence. Her clear, plaintive voice and honest depiction of blindness tugged heartstrings, while her yearning, poignant vocals when singing with Piano Annie (Ryann Monacella) revealed both fear and hope, as well as a sense of fortitude beneath the veil of her timid countenance.
Evident in the set, (Luca Lunquist, Lyn Montalto, Jonah Uffleman, Leslie Payne), was clear attention to detail and focused vision. Jumbled chairs, barrel tables, ropes, and wagon wheels evoked within Calamity Jane’s saloon a cluttered, chaotic scene, paralleling the turmoil within which the entire show found itself immersed. The design at the top of the backdrop emulated ripped pages, alluding to the show’s nature as a novel adaptation and as a fantastical tall tale. In addition, the costumes by Mikenna Corcoran and Ember Burke thoughtfully reflected character personalities and arcs; Lily’s light blue dress displaying her innocence and purity, Calamity Jane’s many layers of clothing revealing her complex morality and integrity corrupted by trauma, and Ned and Black’n Red’s respective white and black costumes that considered their archetypal roles as hero and villain.
Passion, ingenuity, and vibrancy were the hallmarks of this unique show. A masterful synthesis of actor and tech elements, plus audience exchanges, infused the show with an unparalleled zeal and vivacity, serving a reminder that courage is key and the righteous always prevail.