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Review: Oregon Trail

Will Coviello says The NOLA Project's original take on the archaic video game is a riot



Regardless of audience members' opinions about the Second Amendment, Oregon Trail was best enjoyed by patrons who signed up for a gun before the show and took a seat in the rows marked "Hunting Grounds."

  It was a fun and silly opportunity to interact with the comedy, which is based on the namesake educational computer game. In NOLA Project Artistic Director A.J. Allegra's original work, the Bootsmeyer family prepares to strike out for Oregon to start a new life in the West. Their quest to reach this promised land is the obvious dramatic arc to the work, and it offers an endlessly entertaining contrast between the lofty ideals and images of conquering the West and the more mundane reality and dangerous distractions of trudging across the continent hampered by illness and wagon breakdowns and being preyed upon by swindlers.

  Matt (Keith Claverie) runs a general store in Missouri and serves as the narrator. He's a quirky speaker who is given alternately to crass euphemism and surprising candor. He's also not the most scrupulous oxen salesman, but he provides supplies to Ezekiel (Jared Gore), his wife Martha (Natalie Boyd), son Judah (Alex Ates), cousin doctor Jebadiah (Sam Dudley) and the oddball Crazy Fingers (James Bartelle).

  The game presents players with an endless series of hard choices and resource-sapping encounters. The fording of rivers provides two very entertaining interludes in the play, cleverly handled with shoestring-budget props. The journey may be educational, but the actors/players are wildly politically incorrect in their choices and the show is darkly funny.

  The plot is full of jokes involving stock characters from Westerns, references to school classrooms and exploration of sexual frontiers. The performances are all solid, especially Claverie's storemaster, Gore's flustered but determined Ezekiel and Bartelle's eccentric Crazy Fingers. Absurd flourishes keep the comedy lively, but after God shows up as a character, several gags reach too far and fall short. This is a gleefully inglorious account of how the West was won, but it's a very entertaining version of the story. — WILL COVIELLO

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