Two charismatic women rule the roost in the engagingly interactive Painted Ladies: Bosses of the Wild West, but their bright lights tend to overshadow the rest of the production.
Painted Ladies takes us to Sweet Fall Saloon, the less-than-reputable and highly profitable establishment of Madame Josephine. Mama Jo runs the place with an iron fist encased in a velvet glove. Her spit-fire right-hand lady, Lou-Anne Rose, does a lot of the talking, fussing, and feuding, but Mama Jo keeps her and the bartender Sal in line and making money.
Mama Jo’s well-oiled business gets some grit in the gears when Dahlia, a young woman with a mysterious past, arrives and does her damnedest to get a job at Sweet Fall. Lou-Anne smells a rat, but Mama Jo overrules her concerns and brings Dahlia into the fold. That’s when a series of troubles begin, threatening the business. Lou-Anne is convinced Dahlia is to blame, but Mama Jo seems blind to her faults and unable to see the circumstances clearly.
Marketa S. Nicholson, as Mama Jo, was a strong, dynamic presence from the first moment she entered. She moved easily from nurturing warmth to cold pragmatism and was never rushed in her delivery. This was clearly Mama Jo’s domain and Nicholson owned it fully. While it was Mama Jo’s stage, we were definitely at Lou-Anne Rose’s party. Played jubilantly by Dara A. Gold, Lou-Anne flirted with the crowd one moment and pulled a knife from her garter the next. But Lou-Anne’s heavy southern accent occasionally made her lines difficult to understand.
Ian Nace played each of the almost-interchangeable four male characters serviceably, differentiating them through his physicality. Unfortunately, Carmen Hernandez’s Dahlia hit the same angry tone throughout, not providing much dimensionality to the character. Hernandez also played Victoria, a pious prude causing trouble for Sweet Fall, with a similar level of angry outrage that didn’t distinguish her characterization strongly from Dahlia’s.
Painted Ladies: Bosses of the Wild West
closes July 27, 2018
Details and tickets
Written by Nicholson and Gold, much of the play’s action over the 90-minute run revolves around uncovering the story involving Mama Jo and Dahlia. Those scenes are interwoven with bawdy stories about Lou-Anne’s escapades before she landed at Sweet Fall. The scenes involving Mama Jo and Lou-Anne were very engaging, but there were times the play felt padded, particularly during the scenes with the pious Victoria and her wayward husband.
Where this play truly shines is in the interactive interludes. The best moments were when the audience got to engage with the ladies and a feeling of real joy filled the theater. Willing participants were pulled up on stage, and there was dancing, drinking games, and even a call for applicants to join up as a painted lady. Lou-Anne Rose was particularly in her element and reveled in teasing and cajoling all of us into having a good time. I wanted more of these interactive moments, and I enjoyed how they revealed relaxed and playful sides to the performers.
While not lavish, the set design had enough elements to give the atmosphere of an old western saloon, complete with a bar and plenty of bottles of whiskey. The costumes appropriately corseted and tarted up the ladies, giving them a fun, if less than historically accurate, styling. Lighting design was minimal and unobtrusively indicated scene changes and different times of day, and the primary sound element was Mama Jo’s powerful singing voice during the interactive dance party.
Nicholson and Gold have created two fascinating and memorable women, but I would have liked to see the same vibrance throughout the rest of the play. Their talents shone when they were working with the crowd, and there they seemed to intuitively understand how to widen the spotlight to include all of us.
Painted Ladies: Bosses of the Wild West. Producer: TMD Theater. Director: Merancia Noelsaint. Writers: Dara A. Gold and Marketa S. Nicholson. Stage Combat Choreography: Marketa S. Nicholson. Associate Producer/Tech: Montativa Johnson. Tech: Alex Wiggins. Jr. Producer: Devinne J. Featuring: Marketa S. Nicholson (Madame Josephine). Dara A. Gold (Lou-Anne Rose). Carmen Hernandez (Dahlia/Victoria/Devinne). Ian Nace (Sal/Sheriff/Jim/Leroy). Presented at Capital Fringe Festival . Reviewed by Kate Gorman.