The Kenai Performers will kick off a fresh season of shows this weekend with the melodrama barnburner “Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch.”
The play will begin a stretch of six productions for the theater troupe, including “Lost in Yonkers” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” that will continue over the winter and into next spring.
Directed by Terri Burdick, who has taken on around a half dozen directing roles in her time with the Kenai Performers, the play includes a solid mix of young talent and returning stars.
“One of my goals directing is I want to always have some new people,” Burdick said.
Burdick said three of the cast members have less than a year of experience with Kenai Performers but have taken to the stage with gusto — helped along by a handful of veteran actors.
The show is a classic western melodrama, Burdick said, complete with onstage antics that she said should have the audience laughing. Melodramas are meant to be outrageous, silly and over the top, and “Blazing Guns” is no different, she said.
“In melodramas, you knock down the fourth wall in theater and talk directly to the audience at times,” Burdick explained. “They’re fun, they’re hilarious.”
One of the most seasoned names in the cast is that of Yvette Tappana, a Soldotna actress with 35 years of acting experience under her belt. Tappana said melodramas can often make for great comedy while cluing the audience in on the story with brief interludes.
“Through those asides, the story develops,” Tappana said. “Those put all the background story together, and the rest of it just builds throughout the play.”
Actor Ian McEwan, who takes on both the roles of hero and villain in the production, said for him the appeal of melodrama is the loose atmosphere and the interaction with the crowd.
“We once gave them popcorn before the show and encouraged them to throw it, and I’ve tried catching it out of the air with my mouth,” McEwan said. “I got hit by an entire bag one time.”
Tracie Stang, who plays Willie Lovelace — also one of the play’s heroes — said acting in her first melodrama has brought some unexpected surprises, particularly in audience interaction, which often includes a few cast members dishing out light-hearted heckling.
“Half the time you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m saying anymore,’” Stang said. “‘We’ll see how that goes’ … it really feeds into the actors that way.”
Burdick said “Blazing Guns” is a little different from a typical melodrama, which she described as more along the lines of a damsel in distress tied to railroad tracks. Instead of a helpless damsel, Lovelace is the Roaring Gulch sheriff who tries to lay down the law.
Stang said the character wants to be taken seriously, but also pines for a life as a woman with a tender heart.
“There’s that conflict, which is funny, between wanting to be rough and tumble, but also a gal,” Stang said. “I don’t know if I’m nailing it but that’s the goal.”
Roaring Gulch hotel owner Widow Black and the devious Snipe Vermin, played by Tappana and McEwan, respectively, serve as the play’s villains. The two concoct dastardly plans, which include running off Sheriff Lovelace and the hero Harry Heartstone — Vermin’s long lost twin brother adopted by English parents, who shows up as a Pinkerton detective.
“Usually your bad guy has the mustache and he twirls it and has a cape,” Burdick said. “But we have two villains in this one.”
Tappana said the Widow Black character is one she has steadily immersed herself in.
“It’s fun to be evil,” Tappana said with a smirk.
She doesn’t spend a lot of time, however, worrying about her character’s motivation.
“I’m always kidding around saying I’m a theater wannabe,” Tappana said. “I just take my role, whatever they give me, and it just comes to me. I don’t do the whole ‘What made Widow Black evil?’
“I’ve always been very blessed to just go in and find my person as they go on. I develop it with each performance.”
Snipe Vermin (McEwan) makes his appearance with his sidekick, Bill Filbert (played by Reed Morrison-Placha). McEwan’s double portrayal of the villain and the heroic Heartstone makes for some interesting moments.
“I have some interactions with myself, offstage,” McEwan said. “It takes some getting used to. It really does.”
McEwan said he has had to dip into his vast knowledge and experience in acting to portray both roles.
“I don’t want to accidentally use the wrong accent for the wrong character,” McEwan said.
“Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch” will open Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. The show runs this weekend and the weekend of Aug. 23-25. The show will also have a special intermission which will include dessert, with pie a la mode being served to the audience.