Spencer Korcz, Leila Toba, Andrew Mertz, Hannah Wold, & Felisha Lovett in The Trail to Oregon! Photo courtesy of The Alley Theater.
The Trail to Oregon!
By Jeff Blim, Matt Lang, & Nick Lang
Directed by J.P. Lebangood
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Trail to Oregon! is a musical parody of a vintage video game first produced by a Chicago group called StarKid Productions for a brief run in 2014. I’m not sure why its modest reputation brought it the attention of The Alley Theater, but aesthetically it does seem a good fit to the company’s profile. It’s a cultural parody originating from below the radar, it is irreverent and audience participatory, so that checks several Alley boxes.
The premise is that of a family of five traveling by horse drawn wagon to Oregon after the family farm burned to the ground. The Dad (Andrew Mertz) chalks it up to God’s Will, while the Mom (Leila Toba) intimates that it was some “durned fool” that kicked over a lantern in the barn. With Daughter (Riker Hill), Son (Felisha Lovett), and Grampaw (Hannah Wold) in tow, they set out on the arduous journey that will bring them into contact with various and sundry characters, most importantly, the Bandit King (Spencer Korcz).
After an introductory musical number, the family members are named from random suggestions solicited from the audience. For the July 6 performance the results were “Pond Scum” (Dad), “Deborah” (Mom), “Henrietta Sue” (Daughter), “Bon-Bon” (Son), and “Humps-A-Lot” (Grampaw) – or was it “Humps-Too-Much”? Even the cast had trouble-keeping track. At intermission, the audience is asked to vote for which of the family they would like to have die from dysentery.
As a script, Trail feels too specific, too “insider baseball” to have a broad appeal, and, as the YouTube video of the original production shows, it demands a production that finds a vey specific voice. Even there, the show is only intermittently funny, and relies heavily on the performances of a company for whom the material was specifically tailored.
This ensemble, under the direction of J.P. Lebangood, works extra hard to sell it, but this dog just won’t hunt. The over exertion betrays desperation and undermines the humor, which is feather light and elusive. The show needs to feel easy and fun and only occasionally hits the mark. The score is not particularly memorable, so even when Leila Toba belts out her big number with fierce energy, it doesn’t have much impact. I felt bad for the game cast, who are working so very hard, but that is part of the problem. Aside from Spencer Korcz, who seems incapable of ever being uptight on stage, no one is able to relax and have fun.
But ultimately, the difficulty here is about the material. The Trail to Oregon! is just not a very good play, and even the fair efforts of this group will not change that.
The Trail to Oregon!
June 29 – July 13, 2017 @ 7:30pm
The Alley Theater
633 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.