Vienna: A True Adventure

Vienna: A True Adventure

James Madison High School’s production of ‘Deadwood Dick’ engages the audience.

From left:  Allie Lambson, Hunter Slingbaum, Kelly Brents and Kristiana Qerosi in Madison High’s production of ‘Deadwood Dick.’

From left: Allie Lambson, Hunter Slingbaum, Kelly Brents and Kristiana Qerosi in Madison High’s production of ‘Deadwood Dick.’ Nicky Bahadori/James Madison HS

— Hop on your horses and gallop on over to James Madison High School, because a night of cowboys, card games, true love, and lively fun awaits at their production of “Deadwood Dick.”

Based on a popular series of nineteenth century dime novels by Edward L. Wheeler, “Deadwood Dick” follows the tradition of old Western melodrama, filled with mustached villains, dashing heroes, and lovely, woe-ridden heroines. The play follows the adventures and, of course, ultimate triumph of the pistol-wielding, horseback-riding heroes Wild Bill (Carson Casper) and Ned Harris (Henro Kriel) as they fight to save the beautiful sisters Lily and Rose Blossom (Justice Allen and Maille-Rose Smith, respectively) from the diabolical clutches of the evil Blackman Redburn (Ryaan Farhadi).

The students of James Madison High School succeeded in creating a performance that was dynamic and fantastically engaging. In the classic Western style, the show was an interactive experience, with audience members shouting warnings to the gallant heroes, boo-ing the evil-doings of the villains, and even chucking handfuls of popcorn onto the stage during moments of particular passion. Audience members were not passive observers of the onstage action; rather, they were an integral part of a wildly fun theatrical event. The actors, meanwhile, did not let the audience participation faze them. Instead, they seemed to feed on the energy they received from the crowd. One performer - Ryaan Farhadi, who portrayed the malevolent Blackman Redburn - even managed to catch a piece of popcorn in his mouth and swallow it, executing a fantastic moment that encompassed what was perhaps the greatest strength of the show: the true connection between the actors and their audience.

Of course, Farhadi’s assets were not limited to his popcorn-catching skills. In his role as the show’s black-clad villain, he was wonderfully creepy, while still charming and charismatic - the character the audience loves to hate. Other standouts among the lead cast included Justice Allen as the pure, fragile Lily Blossom and Liv Wisnewski as the brass, morally gray saloon owner Calamity Jane. Allen not only committed wonderfully to her character’s blindness, never allowing her eyes to quite focus, but she also impeccably executed the stock character of the sweet, comely damsel-in-distress. Wisnewski, meanwhile, was a commanding presence. Her character - an unpredictable woman who received both boos and cheers over the course of the show - was delightfully intriguing.

The excellence of this production was certainly a group effort. The supporting cast and ensemble were lively and devoted, with certain key characters, such as the adorable Russian cook Vassili (Michelle Uchitel) and the raging Temperance Crusader Teetotal Tessie (Kelly Brents), making lasting impressions. Meanwhile, set designers Faith Carlson and William Kegley found great success in their remarkable detailing of the Man-Trap Saloon, while costumers Bailey Bane and Claire Ashby created terrific stage pictures through their use of bright colors and era-appropriate styling.

James Madison High School’s production of “Deadwood Dick” was magnetic. By actively engaging with their audience and inviting them into their Western world, the cast and crew built a show that was more than a performance - it was a true adventure.