“Villainy in the Valley,” or “The San Juan Scoundrel,” a two-act melodrama and comedy, is part of the official New Mexico Centennial celebration.
The play, which highlights the settlement of San Juan County, was written by local playwright Judy Castleberry and is being produced by Bottom of the Barrel Productions. It will take audiences back to a time when the county was still part of the Wild West, and they will be encouraged to join in the drama by booing at the villain and cheering for the heroes.
In 1887, Aztec was known as the temporary seat of San Juan County. “Villainy in the Valley” is set against the bitter election of 1890 held to put to rest the rivalry between the towns of Aztec, Farmington, Junction City, Largo and Mesa City. Junction City (which no longer exists) won the election, but Aztec sued, saying the election was illegal. After much controversy, including the burning down of a courthouse, the county seat was ultimately awarded to Aztec in 1892.
The play focuses on a family of honest but naive settlers from the Midwest who come to San Juan County to start a new life. They are met by Lester Lawless, who has been attempting to buy votes for Junction City by selling plots of land for a dollar a lot.
The election pits several towns against each other, but as in most melodramas, virtue prevails.
Castleberry said she wrote the play because she has always enjoyed studying local history and wanted to share the colorful story of the county’s settlement with the public in a fun and entertaining way. While most events in the melodrama are based on fact, some of the characters were created or “enhanced” for dramatic effect.
While Castleberry has won several awards for past plays, this is her first foray into writing melodramas.
“Melodramas are fun, and are also a great way to introduce kids to live theater,” she said. “We live in a wonderful place, and I think we should learn about it and celebrate it.”
Castleberry is hoping for a lot audience participation during the melodrama, which she describes as a very family-friendly presentation.
Many of the actors in “Villainy in the Valley” are Aztec residents, such as Kortney Anthony, a junior at Aztec High School. Anthony plays Patience Steinberger, an innocent young girl preyed on by the evil Lawless. Anthony has been involved in several school productions, but this is her first community theater role.
“I think melodrama is a lot more fun because you get to talk to the audience instead of worrying about breaking the fourth wall (an acting term that refers to the imaginary boundary between a fictional work and its audience).”
Anthony believes the local subject matter of “Villainy in the Valley” will relate to audiences from around the county.
Like Anthony, this is Deion Hayes’ first acting role in community theater. Hayes is a theater major at San Juan College and plays the dastardly Lawless.
“It’s been fun to over-play during the melodrama, and it’s fun being the villain. I think audiences will really enjoy it, and they’ll definitely have someone to boo at!”
“Villainy in the Valley” is sponsored by Comcast, with support from San Juan College, the City of Farmington, the Farmington Daily Times, the Aztec Senior/Community Center and Aztec High School.