Theatre Three Can't Harvest Many Laughs With Wild Oats

The cast of Wild Oats
The cast of Wild Oats
Jeffrey Schmidt

Theater Caps are bite-sized punch-packing capsule reviews by resident theater critic Elaine Liner. Use them as a reminder -- or a teaser, if you procrastinate -- of her full-length reviews in The Mixmaster's weekly sister.

A lame effort like Wild Oats is no way for Theatre Three to launch its 51st season.

The old theater in The Quandrangle has given itself a facelift over the summer. New carpet in the newly christened Norma Young Arena theater and, finally, handrails on those steep steps in the aisles to the upper rows. How there aren't more fatalities from falls involving the elderly patrons of this place is a mystery.

Even at the preview of Wild Oats I reviewed, a lady face-planted as she navigated the steps, even with the help of those rails.

In Wild Oats, it's the actors falling on their faces in late playwright James McLure's Wild West farce, awkwardly adapted from a centuries-old Irish play. Directed by Bruce R. Coleman, the play never finds its rhythm in a silly, sliver-thin plot about mistaken identities, saloon gunfighters, cavalry officers and ladies in distress.

One minute they're spouting long sections of Shakespeare, the next they're tying actress Lee Jamison to a set of wooden railroad tracks. Very Perils of Pauline by way of F Troop.

Actors Andy Baldwin and Gregory Lush acquit themselves without too much embarrassment as they work themselves into a lather trying to find some comedy beats to exploit (Baldwin plays an on-the-lam actor; Lush is a cavalry officer with a Foghorn Leghorn accent). If only the many performers around them were as skilled at overcoming the script - more ad-libbing would help.

Some sections of seats have been removed, so designer Jeffrey Schmidt's cartoony scenery of saloon and chuck wagon stuff spans corner-to-corner of the in-the-square space. Costumes by Coleman are unflattering to everyone, but are funnier than most of the dialogue.

Wild Oats continues through September 11 at Theatre Three. Box office, 214-871-3300.

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