Off the Rails, Randy Reinholz’s engaging adaptation of Measure for Measure, interweaves strands of American history, chiefly the Native American struggle to preserve tribal identity, with the themes and cadences of Shakespearean comedy. The play is presented by Native Voices, the country's only equity company devoted to plays by Native Americans.
The story (framed by a charming once-upon-a-time set by Sara Ryung Clement, with lighting design by R. Craig Wolf) is set in Genoa, Nebraska, in 1886. The town’s head honcho, General Gatt (Ted Barton), is leaving town on business and has appointed Angelo (Michael Matthys), the superintendent of schools, to govern while he’s away.
Unlike the General, a bigoted but easygoing magistrate, Angelo is a stern moralizer, bent on enforcing the letter of the law. He promptly orders the arrest and execution of Momaday (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), a 16-year-old Pawnee boy who’s been sleeping with an Irish girl (Emily Lenkeit). The couple, who are in love, have married in a Pawnee ceremony but not in a Christian one, which in Genoa means they’re committing an illegal act.
Word of Momaday’s dire straits reaches his sister, Isabel (Elizabeth Frances), who goes before Angelo to plead for her brother’s life. A hypocritical snake, Angelo agrees to commute the sentence if Isabel has sex with him. This puts Isabel — a converted Christian and something of a prude — in a bind. With the help of the townsfolk — spearheaded by its resourceful and colorful brothel owner, Madame Overdone (Shyla Marlin) — she fronts a scheme to foil Angelo’s plans
It's a lighthearted play with music, as opposed to a serious drama. But Off the Rails has plenty worthwhile to tell us about the cultural genocide perpetrated on Native Americans by a school system designed to indoctrinate and control. Under white governance, the community was ultimately fractured. We see this illustrated in the rift between Momaday and Isabel — one a traditionalist, the other a newly converted Christian.
Though all the performances are capable, the best of them emerge from the supporting ensemble. Under Chris Anthony's direction, they include the versatile and very funny Barton, who, besides the pompous general, plays a mentally suspect French executioner; Christopher Salazar as a decent government official dismayed by Angelo’s doings; and Robert Vestal as Pryor, the smart-aleck who takes over the saloon and brothel after Angelo declares that women — in this case Madame Overdone — may no longer own a business.
Brian Joseph, who serenades us on his guitar during intermission, serves as musical director for this family-friendly show, while the lively choreography that caps the bawdy scenes is by Corky Dominguez. Adrieanne Perez, who plays Marianne, Angelo’s jilted lover, sings a couple of lovely solos.
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Autry National Center of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; through March 15. (323) 667-2000, ext. 299, theautry.org/nativevoices.
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