Theatre review: How The West Was One – familiar fun is pushed through a lesbian lens

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While perhaps not quite a bull’s eye, there is still some sharp shootin’ going on with an original script and even a few original songs in the Leaping Thespians production of How The West Was One, currently on stage at The Cultch’s Culture Lab.

The cast of the Leaping Thespians production of How The West Was OneAs with previous Leaping Thespian productions, there are few stereotypes left standing by the end of this soap opera set in Canada’s Wild West during the mid-1800s.  There is the matriarch and saloon keeper with a heart of gold Miss Kitty (Eroca Zales), and her innocent tomboy daughter Ramona (Kiri McGuire).  Plus, of course, there is the rotund Prospector (Nancy Painter) who not only provides much of the comic relief but, true to form, spends most of her time mooching drinks and pining over Miss Kitty.  Throw in the beautiful stranger Gillian (Deloris Piper), the Outlaw (Terry Lynn Boyle) and the Hustler (Leigh Burrows) and you have more formula characters than a Spaghetti Western.  But here that formula is a big part of the show’s charm, giving us something familiar to work with while playwrights Karen White and Leigh Burrows push it all through a Lesbian lens.

Led by a delightful performance by Kiri McGuire, this familiar team of players (pictured right) continues to be bold, embracing their characters and refusing to shy away from taking us to the edge of silliness.  Whether it is riding hobby horses or making the squeaking noise of the saloon doors each time they make an entrance, the cast doesn’t hold back.

At times there was a very a linear feel to the show with actors in a straight line across the stage.  There was also a penchant for any speech of length to be delivered towards the audience.  (To be fair though, I did attend a performance with American Sign Language interpreters, so I am not 100% sure how much of the staging had been re-vamped specifically for the deaf members of the audience).

White and Burrows, not content with just writing and directing (and in Burrows’ case acting), are also responsible for the simple but effective set and some great costumes.  Sound designers Shelley O’Hagan Gimbel and Brian Gimbel ensure the music comes off without a hitch and add some nice sound effects including the galloping hobby horses and the recurring theme for the Outlaw.

Born out of a scene from the group’s 2009 production Once Upon A Lesbian, the script does at times feel like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches that becomes a full-length feature, but playwrights White and Burrows make no excuses for their hackneyed script and nor should they.  The duos fourth attempt at an original script, and third that I have seen, shows the growth of the two at the writing process.  The addition of four original songs from Lory White, or perhaps ditties would be more appropriate, is icing on this proverbial cake.  Coupled with the obvious good time the cast is having on stage, How The West Was One is a great deal of fun.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars How The West Was One

Written and directed by Karen White and Leigh Burrows.  A Leaping Thespians production.  On stage at The Cultch Culture Lab through April 2, 2011.

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