Fiesta Melodrama - September 1, 2011

"Fiesta Melodrama is a tried and true tradition of the Santa Fe season..."

Another summer come and gone. The night begins to carry a chill and the rain season is soon to pass. Bitter memories of misfortune still linger, but remembrance of misadventures start to flicker with the soft glow of nostalgia. So another summer passes as it always must.

Long and hot and wonderful and over all to soon. No summer can close, though, without Old Man Gloom peaking over the horizon. His burning visage is ready to carry our griefs away. No fall in Santa Fe can be ushered in without our country's oldest tradition; The Santa Fe Fiesta! And no Fiesta would be complete without an open air market on the Plaza, Zozobra and The Fiesta Melodrama.

Fiesta Melodrama is a tried and true tradition of the Santa Fe season. From the nefarious plots of a mustache twirling villain or the poking jibes toward our state’s current governor, the staples of the melodrama are more or less the same. The hero gets the damsel, a politician can be trusted as far as they can be thrown, and everyone leaves the theater comedically sated. The differences lie in the details and each year adopts a unique focus to keep the show fresh beyond the topical humor.

This year is all about music. While music in the melodrama is nothing new, this year’s plot uses the local music scene as the show's focal point, and features a struggling, fresh to the town, musician as its hero. What is the value of original music? Is there a real music scene in Santa Fe? What does it take for a musician to survive in a town like ours? These are the kinds of questions this year’s melodrama asks, all masked by the veneer of melodramatic satire.

It’s a subject matter both important and fresh to the young minds of Santa Fe seeking a progressive music scene in the “arts Mecca” of the southwest. While the villain of the show on paper is plotting PNM tycoon Swindelmann (played by local actor Matt Sanford), the real evil of the plot is the ever present radio at stage left. Simple in its presentation; the radio represents the needless commercialism of fresh art, the evils of misinformation and, like all melodramatic villains, causes harm to the shows heroine, just shy of tying her to a railroad track. It is a clever and well crafted allegory that can be dissected and discussed long after the curtain has come down.

Also distinguishing itself this year is the return of late night shows. It's been nearly 20 years since this was last tried, but this year's melodrama will perform as a double feature on the weekends and contain a more adult atmosphere. In keeping with the music-oriented theme every night, the melodrama will feature a live band playing mid-show and a full burlesque troupe, to encourage audience participation. This move serves to honor the melodrama’s more vaudevillian roots.

Will live music and naked woman encourage the crowd to be more uproarious and participatory...well yes I suspect so. More importantly, it will be interesting to see if this attracts the younger generation. While the show's subject matter lends itself to the 20-something age group, the additions of the late night line-up are aimed at filling the seats with those who don’t necessarily count theater as one of their usual pastimes.

Director Elliot Fisher distinguishes himself with over a decade of melodrama experience and it shows in his work. He uses the humor and satire of melodramatic camp to keep the audience objective about the real issues at play in our state. Important, because in a show like this, without comedy there is no objectivity. He touches on everything from our state’s recent political shift to the very real question of new art and how it’s handled by the established arts community.

The show even provides some much needed catharsis about recent events that remain bitterly in our minds. If life were a melodrama, without a doubt, Mr. Fisher would be the hero. His determination to create fresh and interesting work in an accessible format is commendable. He is pumping fresh blood into the Santa Fe theater scene and through his work encourages others to do the same.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, everyone could use the smile provided by a night at the theatre. This is a fun, funny show that doesn’t stand on ceremony and if delved deep enough can leave you with some genuinely interesting insights. If you’ve never been to the Fiesta Melodrama before, this is a great year to go. If you’re feeling adventurous and ready for something a little edgier than is usually provided by the local theater scene, I encourage you to try a late night show. No matter the case, remember this is a melodrama you’re going to. Be loud, boo at the villain, cheer for true love, and remember it’s alright to be heard laughing.

The Fiesta Melodrama opens Wednesday August 31 and runs through September 11. Show times and ticket prices can be found in the link below. Late night shows are 21 and up.

Fiesta Melodrama at the Santa Fe Playhouse: