Awild wind blows through “The Tavern,” the latest production by the Great American Melodrama.
Equal parts parody and homage, the play follows a diverse group of strangers who find themselves stranded at the titular tavern one “dark and stormy night.”
“It’s such a perfect play for us because it is a melodrama, but it comments on melodrama in a fun way,” said Eric Hoit, artistic director of the Oceano theater company. “It’s a wonderful mix of a comedy, a mystery and these melodramatic elements.”
The play, which runs through Sept. 19, is directed by Roger DeLaurier, associate artistic director at PCPA Theaterfest in Santa Maria.
Performances of “The Tavern” alternate with “The Crock of Gold,” a 19th-century melodrama about the evils of greed. That play, written by Silas S. Steele and directed by Eric Hoit, centers on a haughty butler and a humble laborer who are both tempted by illicit riches.
“They pair pretty well,” said actor Chuck McLane, noting that both works toy with the traditional melodrama structure. “It gives the audience a nice variety.”
“The Tavern” is the work of George M. Cohan, the legendary Broadway showman behind such hits as “Over There,” “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
The play, which premiered in 1920, is said to be Cohan’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why.
“The Tavern” takes place in the course of a single night as a series of oddball characters arrive at the establishment run by Freeman (Alan Benson, making his Melodrama debut), his son Zach (Jim McCaffrey) and Sally (Megan C.C. Walker), a silly serving girl.
The first to arrive on the scene is a mysterious vagabond (Chuck McLane) with a flair for the dramatic.
“He comes in and stirs things up and shoves people out of their ordinary roles that they’re accustomed to playing,” McLane said. “He’s constantly trying to cast those roles: Who is the villain? Who is the true hero? Who is the ingénue?”
The witty, whimsical vagabond has plenty of potential cast members to choose from.
There’s Violet (Bree Murphy), a distraught woman who’s discovered “hiding in the woodshed accusing every man she sees of having done her wrong,” Hoit said.
She’s on her way to seek an audience with the governor (Jim Shine), who arrives at the tavern with his daughter (Katie Worley) and her fiance (Andrew Beck) in tow. The sheriff (Aaron Lamb) and an insane asylum warden (Suzy Newman) aren’t far behind.
“These coincidences only happen in melodramas,” Hoit said with a chuckle. “Cohan is able to make you comment on the dramatic way things are happening, but in a way (that) you want to embrace it.”
McLane added that the play borrows elements of traditional melodramas, “but it’s not quite a ‘cheer, boo, hiss.’ ”
“It’s really interesting in that way,” said McLane, noting that the vagabond serves as a catalyst for the more emotionally charged moments. (Although Arnold Daly originated the role, Cohan himself played the character in later productions.)
“The Tavern” is paired with the “Travel Time Vaudeville Revue,” which takes a lighthearted look at the trials and tribulations of modern travel. It’s directed by Hoit with musical direction by Aaron Lamb.
The cast reworks an old “I Love Lucy” sketch about the language barrier and parodies Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” with an equally bittersweet song about losing your luggage. When one traveler leaves his suitcase at a baggage check, “all that arrives at his destination is the handle,” Hoit explained.
Other sketches deal with airline safety and the difficulties of having Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (played by McLane) as your travel agent.
“We always look at what people are dealing with in their everyday lives,” Hoit said, whether it’s overpriced air travel or overseas snafus. “That’s where you find humor.”
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.