Caravan Farm Theatre has always had a thing for dusty characters, whose names are as descriptive as their surroundings.
A lot of this has to do with the writers the theatre commissions, and one who has returned to the Caravan after a decade is a shining example.
Banjo-wielding playwright Sean Dixon last came to the farm in 1999 to portray a banjo-wielding character who sells his soul to the devil in The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw.
The Toronto-based author, playwright and actor is back at Caravan this summer with his latest play, the alliterated titled The Notorious Right Robert and His Robber Bride.
Dixon wrote the script from a concept that Courtenay Dobbie, Caravan’s artistic director, had in mind, with Vicki Stroich of Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Project providing dramaturgy, and Salmon Arm’s Herald Nix, the music.
“We approached Sean to write a fast-paced cops and robbers story with the idea of people trying to fulfil their dreams of getting out of their small-town existence,” said Dobbie, who is also directing her second summer production at the farm after last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Last year, we had the flowery, lighthearted Midsummer’s and this year is dusty and dirty bank robbers. I wanted this show to be fast and action packed, loud, gregarious and adventurous. It’s sort of a live version of a Coen brothers’ movie with that vintage look and aesthetic.”
A 1930s period piece with a Bonnie and Clyde-style plot, the play uses vintage cars, that dusty setting and the vernacular, where women were called “dames,” to set the times.
The play has the perfect backdrop, with Caravan’s western frontier look, and more than a few healthy steeds (of the equine variety) to help move along the props and set pieces.
“We’ve done this time period before and have utilized and have been inspired by the old buildings here at the farm in creating a dusty, small town,” said Dobbie. “Three of our horses also make an appearance in the show.”
Folks can also expect a few gun fights, and those specially attained vintage cars, one from Vernon and the other from Salmon Arm, to swoop in and out of the play’s stage, which is being set up in the open field just north of the horse paddocks.
There, the audience watches as Right Robert Popoff (played by Greg Gale), achieves legendary status in his one-horse (fictional) town of Chickabiddy, B.C. “Robert wants to be famous. He likes the idea of people knowing who he is. The problem is he doesn’t know how to be famous so he turns to a life of crime,” said Dobbie.
Raised by his older brother, Blue Jay (Darren Dolinsky), who becomes an accomplice, Robert lives up to his name and becomes a thief not unlike Kentucky-born stagecoach/train robber Billy Miner, whose life of crime was eventually stopped when he was caught by police at Monte Lake, near Kamloops.
“Billy is mentioned in the play,” said Dobbie.
Robert eventually meets his match in lady love Jenny Lundy (Georgina Beatty), a gal who wants to be a newspaper “man.”
“Like Robert, she was born and lives in the town and they met one another when they were young and reconnect years later,” said Dobbie. “Jenny wants to be a journalist. She gets frustrated by her hometown paper as she feels there is not enough news. She’s hungry for words and is always writing in her journal.”
As the two set off to make a name for themselves, the British Columbia Provincial Police (who would go on to amalgamate with the RCMP ) attempt to track them down.
One is the town’s sheriff Julius Tallhammer (Christopher Hunt), who also serves as the play’s narrator, and his jealous and hateful deputy Bull Withers (Bruce Horak).
“It’s a comedy, and they play the bumbling duo who chase after the robbers.”
Dobbie is also quick to point out that this year’s show is not a musical, but has musical accompaniment, played by a three-piece band, including Nix on vocals/guitar, to serve as a segue between scenes.
“Herald (Nix) is an indie/alt/country artist from Salmon Arm who is big in the Vancouver music scene,” said Dobbie. “His music sets the tone with a little banjo, harmonica, and slide guitar.”
The Notorious Right Robert and His Robber Bride is Caravan nightly to Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m. (closed Mondays.) Tickets are available by calling 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.