If you ask the governor, her name is Suze Hanna, Suze Hanna Texicana, with a not-so-silent "haych." She dislikes being called "Susana"; she came from "Texicana"; and she's violently afraid of all things Danish (a pun on former New Mexico Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish, in case that wasn't clear). She sold the state's
jet covered wagon, wants a radio in every New Mexico home and spends entirely too much time with some guy named Percy.---
Percy Nicholandime M Swindelmann (Matt Sanford)—otherwise known by his initials, PNM—is a bad guy, or rather, the bad guy. Garbed in his best black suit, top hat and waxy mustache a la Snidely Whiplash, PNM plots to take over the territory of New Mexico (which, given that this is all happening 100 years ago, will soon become a state) by convincing the governor to insert emergency-powers legislation into her anti-Danish law.
So the governor—or, at any rate, her caricature, played to comedic brilliance by departing Santa Fe Playhouse Board Member Emily "EJ" Reigier, who is actually moving to Texas—isn't really evil. She's just dumb. She's just a pawn in PNM's evil schemes.
Fortunately, with this being the 2011 Fiesta Melodrama, A Corrupt Campaign Contributor's Combustible Conspiracy to Trick Trepidations Townsfolk & Take Over the Territory (as well as four other subtitles), a crew of unlikely, ungainly and frankly pretty unusual heroes appears to save the proverbial day.
Hairy Potter (musician, actor and wig-wearer Andrew Primm) is a surprisingly prolific, gratuitously gullible, painfully bohemian musician in no way associated with JK Rowling. After a nasty (hilarious) bout of gambling with Sheriff Deuce S Wilde (Peter Williams)—which causes them both to literally lose the shirts off their backs—Hairy meets Luz Loveworthy (Lexy McAvinchey, whose biography alleges that she likes plays; take that as you will) a bubbly technophobe who works a dozen jobs, is 100 percent convinced that the radio waves are responsible for her general malaise and allegedly falls in love with Hairy because of his ginger locks.
The plot twists and turns in more-or-less obvious ways (hint: PNM lights the state on fire), but it's not really important, as the joy in the play is in the performances. Sanford (who co-directed last year's melodrama with Eliot Gray Fisher, who returns solo this year) imbues the seedy PNM with a sense of overblown self-importance, and he isn't afraid to laugh at his own ridiculousness; Williams, despite a joke in his biography about not knowing how to act, manages the Mel Brooks-esque sheriff with a clean blend of straight-faced sincerity and over-the-top freneticism; and Regier has Suze Hanna's crotchety socialite governor attitude down pat.
The heroes are less clear. Primm and McAvinchey ably fill their respective roles as the air-headed artist and impressionable damsel in distress, but the roles as written are such heavy-handed exaggerations of existing stereotypes that determining where the comedy ends and the melodrama begins is difficult. Similarly, Tambourine Tess (dancer Erica Gionfriddo) and Fiddle Felina (violinist Karina Wilson), two burlesque-garbed tertiary characters, add a degree of visual (and, for Wilson, who is also a member of the band, audible) flair to the stage's negative space, but their purpose to the play's action at large is unclear.
Traditionally, each year, the Fiesta Council attends the opening-night show. In 2010, for the Frankenstein's-monster-and-medical-marijuana melodrama, the Fiesta queen was brought on stage, and the presence and energy of the council (and its attendant mariachi band) added to the general atmosphere. This year, the council was so boisterous and loud as to drown out much of the dialogue. The council members also threw paper through the entire show, which wouldn't be so bad except for when members actually climbed on stage to retrieve the already-thrown paper so it could be thrown again. Heckling and audience participation are expected during melodrama, but this year felt like the antics went a little overboard.
Overall, the show is a fun and playful romp through the absurdities of Santa Fe, and at the end of the night, that's really the point. If nothing else, a melodrama adaptation of Stephen Foster's "Oh! Susanna" is worth the price of admission.