Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Review: Oregon Trail

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 5:27 PM

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Regardless of your thoughts on the Second Amendment, I recommend signing up for a gun before the beginning of Oregon Trail and taking a seat in the rows marked “Hunting Grounds.”

It’s a fun and silly opportunity to interact with the comedy, which is based on the namesake educational computer game. In NOLA Project Artistic Director A.J. Allegra’s original work, which finishes its run in conjunction with the New Orleans Fringe Festival, the Bootsmeyer family prepares to strike out for Oregon to start a new life in the West. Their quest to reach this promised land is the obvious dramatic arc to the work, and it offers an endlessly entertaining contrast between the lofty ideals and images of conquering the West and the more mundane reality and dangerous distractions of trudging across the continent hampered by illness and wagon breakdowns and being preyed upon by swindlers.

Matt (Keith Claverie) runs a general store in Missouri and serves as the narrator. He’s a quirky speaker who is given alternately to crass euphemism and surprising candor. He’s also not the most scrupulous oxen salesman, but he provides supplies to Ezekiel (Jared Gore), his wife Martha (Natalie Boyd), son Judah (Alex Ates), cousin doctor Jebadiah (Sam Dudley) and the oddball Crazy Fingers (James Bartelle).

The game presents players with an endless series of hard choices and resource-sapping encounters. The fording of rivers provides two very entertaining interludes in the play, cleverly handled with shoestring-budget props. The journey may be educational, but the actors/players are wildly politically incorrect in their choices and the show is darkly funny.

The plot is full of jokes involving stock characters from Westerns, references to school classrooms and exploration of sexual frontiers. The performances are all solid, especially Claverie’s storemaster, Gore’s flustered but determined Ezekiel and Bartelle’s eccentric Crazy Fingers. Absurd flourishes keep the comedy lively, but after God shows up as a character, several gags reach too far and fall short. This is a gleefully inglorious account of how the West was won, but it’s a very entertaining version of the story.

Nov. 21-24
Oregon Trail
7 p.m. & 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday
AllWays Lounge & Theatre, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
New Orleans Fringe Festival shows require the one-time purchase of a $3 Fringe button. Oregon Trail tickets are $10 with Fringe button.

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