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At first glance, playwright Ethan Lipton’s Tumacho looks and sounds like a classic western: It’s got cowboys, gunfights, and a wronged woman hell-bent on revenge. But when a chorus of singing cacti, horse puppets on sticks, and a demented demon take the stage, it becomes clear that this comedic play with music is more John Waters than John Wayne.
In a frontier saloon, ineffectual Mayor Evans (John Ellison Conlee) laments his inability to stop the town menace, Big Bill Yardley (Danny Wolohan), who shoots anyone who crosses him. Passed out in the bar is Catalina (Celia Keenan-Bolger), a hard-drinking gunslinger who ignores the affections of the clingy Chappy (Jeremy Shamos) and plots revenge against Bill for killing her parents. When a stranger (Omar Metwally) comes to town and confronts Bill, the town goes haywire, triggering even weirder events: An old local legend — that of the demon Tumacho — comes to life. He voraciously feeds on the townsfolk (think unsexy vampire) and leaves everyone wondering if it’s just their lot — to trade one tyrant for another.
Tumacho embraces its cockamamie premise while managing to squeeze in some smart subtext about fighting bullies and forgoing personal comfort to effect change (with slight nods to our current gun control debate). But the “message” feels secondary to the fun: topnotch actors (notably, the sidesplitting Conlee and Shamos), clever props, and tender musical numbers all working together to deliver bracing emotion amid the absurdity.
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks at the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street
Through July 9