"Villainy in the Valley, or the San Juan Scoundrel," opened Thursday at the San Juan College Little Theater. It's loosely based on the history of the establishment of the San Juan County seat.
The melodramatic form is risky. Its reliance on stock characters fearless heroes, damsels in distress, slimy villains and annoying sidekicks can sometimes make melodramatic productions fall flat.
Local playwright and director Judy Castleberry gracefully avoids potential pitfalls by providing a fun-filled show full of audience participation. Boos, hisses, cheers and clapping are welcomed and encouraged.
"Villainy in the Valley" is all the more fun because of this kitschiness.
Castleberry's two-act melodrama is set in the fall of 1890 and spring of 1891 in San Juan County.
The play is set against the election of 1890, held to put to rest the rivalry between Aztec, Farmington, Junction City, Largo and Mesa City for the county seat. The plot follows a family from Missouri that settles in the now-defunct Junction City in the midst of the power struggle.
The villain, Lester Lawless, played by Deion Hayes, schemes to steal the vote for Junction City by selling plots of land for a dollar per lot.
The hero, Worth Winfield, played by Charles Dobey, is a cowboy from Aztec who falls in love with Patience Stonebarger, played by Kortney Anthony.
Together, these three characters form the heart of the play.
Hayes is excellent as a melodramatic villain. His black cape and hat add to the scheming persona he builds on stage.
Dobey and Anthony form the hero-heroine core of the play. Their dialogues are filled with asides and exclamations to the audience.
The play is also filled with humorous jabs aimed at Farmington and Aztec.
Farmington gets just one vote in the election, and Aztec is said to be filled with ruffians, drinkers, gamblers and other uncouth people.
It all makes for good fun.
Bottom of the Barrel Productions was formed in April and opened membership to residents of San Juan County in July. The production company has held four workshops and more than 50 people have become members since.