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The Scenic Route

It's terrific to have the opportunity to see elaborate, big-budget performances in other cities, but local community theatre can give you a great experience in your own backyard.

In February, Graham Regional Theatre opened its 2024 season with R. Eugene Jackson's melodrama, 'A Golden Fleecing, or, the Undermining of Sarah Sweetflower's Sarsaparilla Saloon and Bridal Shoppe', and I was lucky enough to catch one of its four performances at the Perry Theatre on the courthouse square.

Usually, the audience sits quietly in their chairs and enjoys the spectacle. But in a melodrama, the fourth wall is broken and the audience is encouraged to participate. You cheer the hero, you boo the villain, you heckle the actors (in a good way!), the actors heckle back, you throw the popcorn. It's impossible to not have a good time, but because so much of the interaction is spontaneous, each performance is unique. Ours was a relatively sedate performance, where the audience was primarily friends-and-family of the cast. Despite warnings, my children ended up eating their popcorn (and mine!) long before we had a chance to throw any. But other audiences, well-versed in the genre, nearly cracked up the actors on stage with their wit and humor.

The heroine, Sarah Sweetflower (April Toney) comes to the Old West ghost town of Elbow's Bend to collect her inheritance from her uncle, Cactus Bob, with the help of her fiance, Stanley Stoutheart (Joseph Cyr) and the mysterious wanderer, Crazy Clara (RoseMary Spindle). The only inhabitant of Elbow's Bend we see seems to be Tumbleweed (Lucas Sanders), but there are rumors of a lost gold mine. Sly Scavenger (Brian Ray) is also aware of these rumors, and was ready to swindle the heroine of her inheritance with the help of his accomplice Twinkle Toes (Sonya Ramos). The swindle doesn't go as easily as planned, so they escalate by adding a professional gunslinger, Big Bad Granny (Julie Bell), onto their team.

Brian Ray has portrayed the villain in every melodrama from Graham Regional Theatre for the past thirteen years. His experience was self-evident, and he gave a solid performance. Much of the audience interaction was directed towards him, and he did a great job in handling it. Sonya Ramos was his amiable dancehall accomplice with a one-sided love; Julie Bell was his results-oriented cigar-chomping no-nonsense accomplice. Lucas Sanders was especially flexible in his performance with his multifaceted character. April Toney was a very sensible, proper heroine, while Joseph Cyr garnered many laughs as a hero in the tradition of Dudley Do-Right. RoseMary Spindle managed to be funny, mysterious, and supportive in her role throughout the play.

The Graham Regional Theatre, which has been in operation since 2002, has many activities scheduled for the near future. Check their Facebook page for information about upcoming monthly trivia nights, Summer Youth Theatre Camp in early June, and Young Frankenstein in late June.