What a kid, that Billy, but he’s not all this play is about. He is simply the catalyst for a show that is driven by some intriguing stories and delightful ensemble work.
As we filtered into the small Bodega theatre at the top of the newly constructed 2×4 stairway, the edgy, sharp (I believe base guitar) played by the one onstage musician, Dr. Steven Leffue, sets the tone for what’s to come. He continues to play throughout the show but does not compete with the actors. The stage is a black box containing life size cutouts of Billy, his mother, and a “Wanted” ad. The four actors set a rolling pace as they flow from one story to the next.
The stories begin with Billy, of course, we learn of his early life and most likely how he ended up the way he did, dead, too young. What a shame Billy couldn’t stick to his mother’s advice about keeping on the straight and narrow, but the world is full of temptations.
This show uses Billy to illustrate how people’s lives can be altered by the most unlikely incidents. Do we cause events to happen, or are we simply along for the ride? These four actors/characters help us to understand Billy, certainly, but also, through their stories, show us how often unexpected encounters end in consequences we could never predict. For example, a six year old boy steals candy at the grocery store and is apprehended by his mother. She sends him back to return it where he is rewarded by the clerk for his honesty with a piece of the candy; not punished for stealing. He learns that being a thief can be a good thing.
The actors have an even, inviting openness to their characters. There is a fierceness to a few of the stories, such as when a young man decides to confront an old man in a wheelchair, screaming at him for his prejudice, or a curious demonstration on how to choose and draw a gun, from the hip or from a holster. Each of the actors in turn tells seemingly unrelated stories that weave together into an unlikely tapestry.
The three male actors have almost equal stories to share with us, and they are each compelling and intense in turn. I was disappointed to see the one female actor, though a strong presence on the stage, had fewer stories to tell, and often seemed to be reading from a small book she was holding. This show is a skillfully executed ensemble production; well worth your time and money.
Billy the Kid: First Exhumation
Written and directed by Jackson Phippin
Produced by Redd Shifft/Tim Pabon
Reviewed by Marcia Kirtland
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