REPUBLICAN CITY — Everyone gets into the act when the Harlan County Dam Playhouse presents a production with a villain, a hero and a heroine.
“It’s a good old-fashioned melodrama,” Kris Davies, artistic director, said about the show, “Dogsbreath Devereaux: The Dastardly Doctor,” which opens Saturday. “The villain tries to get the heroine killed for her money and the hero saves her. It’s a popcorn-throwing, boo-hiss-yea kind of experience. I think it’s fun for the audience because they get to be part of the show.”
Davies notes that each performance is different.
“It’s different especially for the actors because it depends on how the audience reacts to what they’re seeing onstage.”
Harlan County Dam Playhouse presents “Dogsbreath Devereaux: The Dastardly Doctor,” written by Billy St. John, at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 30. Tickets are $10.
“It’s a lot of fun for the audience when they can actually talk to the characters,” Davies said. “And it’s funny when the audience throws popcorn and the villain reacts, comes over the leans over and actually says something right to the audience member. It’s a lot of fun and it draws everybody in. It’s a good time for both the actors and the audience.”
With characters like the wealthy widow, Lotta Cash, a nasty nurse named Hilda Hatchet and the heroine of the show, Wendy March, audiences already understand the workings of a melodrama.
“The melodramas are always a big draw because it’s not high-brow theater by any scope of the imagination,” Davies said. “There’s not any realism at all. Audiences feel comfortable coming in. They don’t have to get dressed up. They just know they’re going to have fun. Oh, and there’s free popcorn to throw at the villain.”
In a chase scene, the actors run through the audience.
“The audience gets to warn the hero and the heroine that the villain is on the way,” she said. “It’s really just a lot of fun.”
An element that makes it more fun for the performers comes when they improvise dialogue.
“They rewrite it every night,” Davies added. “What the audience says makes the actors react and they talk back to the audience. It’s different every night.”
The script contains a thread of a story, written by the playwright.
“When the villain says that somebody is going to have an ‘accident,’ the people in the first couple of rows often react by throwing popcorn at him or shouting, ‘That’s not right.’” Davies said. “As the situation comes up, the actors react differently each night.”
Davies has worked with some of the actors for more than a decade.
“They really know how to do it, how to really milk it,” she said.
Performers need a specific set of skills to successfully stage a melodrama. Davies teaches at a university in Utah where she works with her students on creating realistic productions.
“This is completely at the other end of the spectrum,” she said. “It’s very stylized and it has a lot to do with tempo and learning how to do a ‘take’ to the audience, so you break up the lines. We do a lot of counting. Add a four-count, then turn and give a line and then to the audience. It’s simply crazy and a lot of fun — and quick, snap, snap, snap. There’s no acting between the lines. It’s kind of a cartoon.”