Love, lies, and laughs aplenty in fun Charter School show

Val Ann Tyne (Leah Isabelle Littlefield) and Sheriff Zip Code (Noah Butler). — Photo by Susan Safford

A troupe of talented students from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School brought the Old West to vibrant life at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury Friday and Saturday, performing “You Can’t Stamp Out Love or Oh, My Darling, Val Ann Tyne.” The light-hearted melodrama by Tim Kelly was packed with romance, intrigue, false identities, unrequited love, and larger-than-life emotions, inspiring the audience to enthusiastic shouts of “Boo!” “Hooray!” or “Awwww!” when cue cards were raised.

The young actors appeared totally at home on stage, comfortable in their roles, making this a play with a true sense of “play.” They clearly loved assuming the identities of the quirky characters whose lives intersect in Loveland, Colo. in the 1880s, causing sparks to fly, crime to rise, truth to out, justice to prevail, and hearts to soar.

Director Treather Gassmann, teacher, actor, and singer, said she was delighted with how the students rose to the challenge. She had urged them to focus on working together and was impressed with their skills, especially when they deftly improvised their way through misplacement of a key prop.

Assistant directors were Island stage regular Scott Crawford and Ian Chickering, a charter school senior, aiming for a degree in film science.

The historic Grange auditorium, site of community stage productions since the early 1900s, was a fitting venue for this old-timey show.

Loveland has fallen on tough times and everyone is discouraged. “Alas, our town is not a happy town…alas…alas,” intone the women. Everyone that is except the wily Dan Cupid, played with flair by Susa Breese, who dances and twirls through the scenes dressed in black with curly mustache, top hat, swirling cape, and diabolical laugh, spreading suspicion and intrigue, the quintessential villain.

Cupid, actually the nefarious Evil Eye Egbert, known for bilking innocent victims by selling mustard plasters made of mayonnaise, is happily thriving, thanks to his dishonest, heartless scheme.

Action occurs in the lobby of the Sweetheart Hotel, rundown but welcoming with a Victorian settee, dining table, and — the focus of attention — the tiny post office. Townspeople watch Dan Cupid receive piles of mail from unsuspecting women sending cash in payment for his phony matchmaking.

The circuitous plot has layers of deception, false identities, and subterfuge, all of which remarkably gets put right by play’s end. With its twists and turns, the spoofy story provides a perfect framework for the actors to develop their roles fully and with style, creating believable characters. To the players’ credit, we come to know the Loveland folks and their charming, touching, or despicable idiosyncrasies as though they were old friends.

We meet Anguish (Cesca Robinson), prim but outspoken, dressed for travel to get in the mood for a trip and phobic about the word “tea,” a fun shtick that runs through the play. Aunt Joy (Haleigh Marchand) in calico and apron is the hard-working innkeeper, mother hen, offering warm food, a comfy seat, and a sympathetic ear.

The Lovelorn Ladies (kindergarten teacher Lori DiGiacomo, Sydney Jasny, Nina Jephcote) are pretty in pink, all ruffles and bustles and floppy hats, tittering and swooning, sweet but competitive pursuing their “Secret Admirer.”

Leah Isabelle Littlefield as demure damsel Val Ann Tyne, ethereal in flowing chiffon and lace, blushes behind her fan when conversation turns to romance. But not even she can help but fall for the upright Sherriff Zip Code (Noah Buehler), a stalwart hero with chaps, cowboy shirt and shiny badge, dedicated to law, order – and Val Ann.

Scruffy prospector Jerry Atric shuffles by for a warm meal and hot gossip. Played by teaching assistant Dan Haggerty, Jerry whips off his black beard, revealing he is a postal inspector. As Lawyer Reckonwith aptly garbed in oversized business suit and hat, Daniel Rivard’s complex character turns out not quite as honest as he pretends.

Mackenzie Luce’s criminal Melanie Fraud arrives in a burst of stage sobs, planning a well-rehearsed scam on the Lovelanders. Sarah Taylor plays her fake child Alyson to the hilt, cuddling a stuffed rabbit, singing nursery rhymes to seem younger than her years as she connives.

Diana Waring’s costumes enhanced the colorful characters’ personalities and, with frills and petticoats, gloves, shawls, and lace, and men’s garb from formal to fanciful, transformed them into Victorian-era Westerners. Lucy Thompson’s lighting, Jared Rivard’s sound, and Michaela Rivard’s hair styling added to the show’s smooth, professional quality.