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Deadwood Dick - James Madison High School - Vienna, Virginia - November 12, 2016

Joshua Wisdom

Riverside High School

Grab your hat, horse, and gun and prepare for one of the wildest rides in the wilderness at James Madison High School’s ace-high production of Deadwood Dick; or, A Game of Gold!

Created by Edward L. Wheeler, Deadwood Dick starred in a series of dime novels, first published in 1877, and becoming so immensely popular that the Dick anthology continued up until, and after, Wheeler’s death in 1885. Now, over 100 years later, Tom Taggart has collected the most harrowing of situations, the most valiant of heroes, and the most dastardly of villains from these books and condensed them into one nail-biting play.

Set in Deadwood Gulch, the play follows the sinister Black ‘n Red (Ryaan Farhadi) and his mission to kidnap the blind, defenseless Lily Blossom (Justice Allen) upon whose back is a map to her long-dead father’s secret goldmine. Assisted by the proprietor of the Man-Trap Saloon, Calamity Jane (Liv Wisnewski) all hope seems lost – that is, until two illustrious gentlemen ride into town: Ned Harris (Henro Kriel) and “Wild” Bill Hickock (Carson Casper). Will these two be able to save the tender prairie flower, Lily Blossom? What secrets lie in her past? And is Ned Harris harboring a hidden alter-ego, the infamous outlaw Deadwood Dick? All the answers will be revealed!

In such a fast-paced, bustling show like Deadwood Dick, actors can sometimes seem lost in the chaos. This was not the case at James Madison High School: characters were fleshed out, comedic moments given proper pause, and plot points were delivered clearly and concisely.  Even the audience was given the chance to get involved, being encouraged to boo, hiss, cheer, and even throw popcorn as if they were back in the old days of theatre. One stand out actor, Ryaan Farhadi (Black) thrived off this involvement. Diving deep into the self-aware nature of the show, Farhadi had the audience pumping their fists and hollering at his demise, even catching the massive amounts of popcorn being thrown at him in his mouth occasionally. Similarly, Justice Allen had the audience in pieces as her innocence soared through the cesspit of drunks and gamblers at the Man-Trap. Her cooing voice was in sharp contrast to the rough and tumble of the Wild West, making the audience swoon as misfortune plagued her, and cheer wildly as she found her long lost mother.  Crowd favorites included Teetotal Tessie (Kelly Brents), who had the audience in stiches as she roamed about them, having bags upon bags of popcorn thrown at her, Wild Bill (Carson Casper), the capable sidekick for whom the audience fell the moment he stepped foot on stage, and Vassili (Michelle Uchitel), who had the audience in a state of tangible sorrow at word of his death, twice for that matter.

While the actors on stage worked their magic, the play would not have been complete without the meticulous and precise work of Faith Carlson and William Kegley, who designed the diverse set. Adorned with little details such as bullet holes in the walls, large wooden wheels, and even a violin showing the saloon’s long history and serving as a dynamic area for the actors.

James Madison High School’s Deadwood Dick serves as a stellar reminder to a time when theatre was not thought of so seriously, combining outlandish characters, audience participation, and comedy at every turn, even in the most perilous of moments.

Sierra Carrillo

South Lakes High School

Guns, villains, and popcorn of course! It can all be found right on stage in the “Man Trap Saloon.” In this interactive production of “Deadwood Dick,” James Madison High School brought the audience right into the thrilling Old West.

Based on the stories of the fictional character Deadwood Dick, written by Edward L. Wheeler in the 1870s, this show captures the iconography of the West and the melodrama that comes with it. The show opens on a crime in which a girl, Rose Blossom, has been stolen away from her sister, Lily Blossom, by Deadwood Dick himself. The town races to uncover the identity of the mysterious legend while an array of story lines collide to provide love, death, and plot twists in this action-packed play.

To assist in this melodrama, the audience was asked to participate in booing the villains and throwing popcorn when scenes were “just too emotional.” While the audience involvement and sound difficulties led to various dropped lines, it provided for an incredibly immersive show. Along with the thrilling involvement, the audience was also immediately transported into the wild west through the impeccably detailed set. The textured walls and barrel tables of the “Man Trap Saloon” brought on-lookers right into the rowdy bar of the 1800s.

Gracing this set and welcoming the audience was an involved and expressive ensemble of saloon-goers, each with their own distinctly developed character, giving a lively back drop to all the action. Enlivening these characters and the rest of the cast were meticulously put together costumes. Skirts and corsets, to holsters and cowboy hats brought an authenticity to the wild west setting. Madison High School also provided props galore to enhance this show even more. A variety of drinks amplified the bar setting, while prop guns big and small added to the vigilante atmosphere as well as providing a gag or two.

The mischievous villain Black’n Red, portrayed by Ryaan Farhadi, supplied an indestructible swagger and strong presence on stage with his confidence and demanding voice. The amazingly witty Vassili, presented by Michelle Uchitel, dispensed subtle hilarity and lovable comedy consistently throughout the entire production. The sisters Lily and Rose Blossom brought a sweet innocence to the corrupt and dangerous western scene, with their positive attitudes and naive morals. Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Chet Pussy played by Carson Casper, Liv Wisnewski, and Kaz Johnstone also gave entertaining performances. Casper brought a heroic yet goofy presence, Wisnewski produced a fiery and passionate performance, and Johnstone was a subtle presence with spot-on comic timing that became seamlessly villainous.

Teetotal Tessie, portrayed by Kelly Brents, achieved an incredible comical moment as a crazed Temperance Crusader with a team of passionate “hatcheteers.” Brents’ spirited commitment to the character left the audience in a fit after one quick scene.

With a packed bar and non-stop action James Madison High School provided an all-inclusive night in the Old West with their interpretation of “Deadwood Dick.”


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