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Oregon Trail’ revels in wacky ride to the West

Tae Andrews | Sunday, March 4, 2007

A snappy script, a grab bag of slapstick gags and a whole lot of improvisation combined to make “The Oregon Trail” the rootin’est tootin’est comedy this side of the Mississippi. Based on the popular children’s computer game which enjoyed its heyday during the 1990s, the play follows the eccentric antics of a wagonload of wacky characters as they ford rivers, hunt animals and fend off Native American attacks all in the name of Manifest Destiny.

Written by A.J. Allegra and put on by the St. Edward’s Hall Players at Washington Hall this past weekend, this crazed comedy captured the fun of the computer game while managing to ridicule it at the same time, all in the spirit of the wild, wild west.

After loading up his wagon “like Wilkes Booth loaded up Lincoln,” frontiersman Ezekiel (Drew McElligott) takes his family on a crazy joyride out West in pursuit of a better life. Along for the ride are Ezekiel’s wife Martha (Laura Godlewski), his snowpants-wearing son Judah (Mike Anderson) and flamboyant and scantily-clad drama king Jebediah (Nathan Morse). In addition, Crazy Fingers (Steve Iwanski), a heavily bearded schizophrenic with a penchant for profanity and making love to scarecrows, somehow manages to find passage aboard Ezekiel’s wagon.

Peppered throughout with commentary from Matt (Jeff Eyerman), the mustached store proprietor who narrates this intrepid tale, hilarity ensues when the rations get reduced to “meager” and the tempo speeds up to a grueling pace as the play races to its wild conclusion.

As irreverent as it is inappropriate, “The Oregon Trail” entertains with a smattering of salty language, a series of comic interludes and asides and more lewd moments and homoerotic interplay than you can wag a wagon tongue at. There are a slew of truly bizarre moments in the play that can barely be explained and many of which aren’t fit to be printed here. Some of the highlights of the ones fit for print include:

*The play’s absurd hunting scene, in which a slew of beasts from the animal kingdom (and a few not from it, such as a pair of unicorns thrown in for good measure) are mowed down by Ezekiel and Jebediah while recreating a scene from “The Lion King.”

*The unforgettable and utterly inexplicable appearance of “Stemmy” (Patrick Vassel), a nymphomaniac stem cell who arrives to save the day when Ezekiel and Judah find themselves at an impasse late in their journey.

*A lengthy debate over the proper pronunciation of the word “dysentery,” a debilitating and common disease for both players of the computer game and characters in the titular play.

What makes “The Oregon Trail” so funny is its talented and creative cast, which uses its flexibility and creativity to keep coming up with spontaneous moments of ridiculousness on the fly. In addition, the play used some rather unconventional stage conventions to set the stage, such as the use of a moving tree (Beth Melia) to present the image of movement as Ezekiel kick-starts the wagon’s three-dozen oxen into gear. The play also used a myriad number of costumes to keep the gags coming, as a near-naked Dancing Indian (James Gower), the Statue of Liberty (Emily Balthasar), a can of Spam and all manner of strange animals make it into the mix. For the audience, the main challenge of “The Oregon Trail” was keeping up with its wild and crazy cast as the jokes kept flying on this wild ride.