With spurs on and audience prompt cards at the ready, Oakland Community Theater aims to start a ruckus this weekend with its annual melodrama.
This year’s melodrama, called “The Code of the West,” is set in 1865 and centers around $50,000 worth of gold dust, the woman who found it and the three villains that want it.
“I’ve got $50,000 in gold dust and the question is did I really strike the big strike here in the Oakland hills or did I waylay Ambrose’s currier and steal his gold dust? That’s the whole question,” Joanne Bartleson said.
This is 79-year-old Bartleson’s second time portraying One-eyed Ernestine, the gold miner who struck it rich somewhere in the hills of Oakton. As one of the group’s original members, she has held a lot of roles throughout her 15 years of involvement, but Bartleson said Ernestine is one of her favorites.
“I was supposed to play a smaller role this year, but after watching the video of the last performance everyone said I needed to do it again,” Bartleson said. “It’s my favorite part in any play and I still remember most of the lines so I decided to give it my best.”
Dana Basque and Joe Brooks play the gun-slinging, card-playing Faultin brothers who have every intention of stealing Ernestine’s riches. They will have to contend not only with Sir Ambrose Wrightworthy (Derek Blodgett) — who claims Ernestine stole his gold — but with the seemingly timid sheriff who tries to keep the peace.
“The sheriff gets to have his own fun,” said Michael Blessing, who plays the sheriff. “Right now he has everyone convinced that he is basically a patsy and all that. And that he is a sheriff. Mostly, you’re going to see him as timid, nervous and an overall pushover.”
Blessing promises the crowd will see the real sheriff by the end of the play.
Audience participation is a big deal to the group. Each year, a card girl will hold up large prompt cards to encourage the crowd to boo, hiss and even join in on some of the actor’s lines.
“We have a lot of opportunities for audience participation,” actress and director Bette Keehley said. “When we have a need for the audience to respond, she will hold a card up so that people can respond with us. But people are welcome to interact outside of those cards as well. We’ve had a lot of that in the past.”
The group has performed this particular play three times, but this year’s performance includes a new aspect for the group. Live musical performances will be held at the beginning of the show and after the 15-minute intermission between acts. The Western Ensemble includes Jim Hart, Juan Bergado, Luann Basque, members of the Oakland Singers and the cast themselves. Cards will provide the audience with prompted opportunities to join in on the four songs that will be performed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ever-changing social distancing mandates, the group opted to hold this year’s production in Oakland City Park, located on the corner of Southeast Maple Street and Southeast Second Street behind Stearns Hardware. New outdoor mask regulations begin Friday and while organizers won’t be actively enforcing mandates, guests are asks to keep themselves and others safe.
“The Code of the West” will begin at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. Guests should bring their own blankets or chairs. Refreshments will be available to purchase and benefit the Oakland Historical Museum Society.
“We steer away from drama — we all already have enough drama in our lives. It’s just an opportunity to laugh. To have a good time,” Keehley said. “It’s funny and there is a lot of opportunity for audience participation and that’s what we aim for anyway, is getting people involved.”