Weirdness aside, ‘A Tribulation in Goat’s Corner’ is a bit wordy
After seeing the University of Great Falls Performing Arts Department’s latest steampunk comedy, “A Tribulation in Goat’s Corner,” I realized it took me until after intermission get comfortable with its weirdness.
Make no mistake just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s bad — the show has already set attendance records at UGF for non-musicals in it’s first weekend.
But, full disclosure here: I’m not into the whole steampunk thing. I don’t get it. I am aware that many other people do.
And, once the whole steampunk window dressing became normal, or as normal as it can get for me, at least, I was surprised how much I liked the talking goat — a “character” that might be the best part of the whole show.
Steampunk can be a sensitive topic, I’m finding, because I’ve already talked to two people who both had differing opinions on how it should be portrayed. Both people are not steampunk enthusiasts, either.
One person felt that the backdrop’s design made the set feel more sci-fi than steampunk and that it was too much steampunk for him, while the other person said she felt like it needed MORE steampunk things in it and it wasn’t going far enough.
I, however, didn’t feel as if the steampunk element was integral to the story itself.
Looking at it as if it’s a piece of art, however, not something which I’ve already made a judgement about before it even started, I still felt there was something missing.
But what it does well, it does really well. What it doesn’t do so well it really struggles with, though too.
For example, it LOOKS like a professional production, or at least one you’d expect to see at a place like the University of Montana or somewhere with a much bigger theater department.
It did make for some fantastic looking costumes, however. And, I’d say just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it’s beauty.
My favorite costume had to be that of Sawyer Edmister’s Professor Pumerine. Almost anyone could wear that costume and you’d know that it was supposed to be a nutty professor type character.
Big kudos have to be given to the job that Adrienne Ehrke did in the costume design, as well as Barbara Lassiter did in the set design.
The props, such as the big clock Siomara Zendejas brings to show the time early in the first act, were all fun to look at.
As for the story itself, let’s start with what I thought worked nicely.
I think having Katalina escaping town because she didn’t want to get married to the brainless man her parents chose for her in exchange for goats, is a solid premise to start your hero’s journey.
After that, however, it took a long while for me to start feeling like I was connected to the characters again.
I also was a bit confused by the first part of the play before we get to Katalina’s conundrum.
The first bit of action comes when Commodore Brimgan enters to Goat’s Corner and reads off a decree of some sort, none of which I could really understand that well.
Then, after Katalina is traveling with the fortuneteller, Katalina tells her that she doesn’t have any money and not sure what she’s going to do next. However, after a brief encounter with a soldier, it’s discovered that Katalina does have magic rocks which somehow equate to money.
I was a bit confused how that was supposed to work.
Part of the reason for this confusion, I’d say, is that the script was a bit too wordy for me. A lot of the narration, especially, could have been compacted.
And while at times having the characters say narrative and then flip back into their character was kind of quirky and interesting, but perhaps it would have been much more effective if you were going to use a narrator, let one person be the narrator throughout the story.
And then, let’s talk about the goat a bit.
I’d say of all the performers, Travis Vermulm, who plays the goat, got the most laughs throughout the whole show.
It reminded me of some of my favorite Monty Python skits, and knowing Michael Gilboe, I’m sure he’d say that the idea for the goat had to be at least somewhat taken from Python.
The only problem was it didn’t seem as if he was a real character that did anything integral to the plot. You could argue that since he’s a goat, how could he?
But then, how could he be talking? It could have been fun to see him doing some more things that affected the other characters.
Beyond that, however, of all key problems I saw, the inconsistency of the accents was the worst, along with the wordiness of the story.
When I say inconsistency, I don’t mean that a person sounded like an Englishman in one scene and then an Australian in the next.
It’s that some of the actors had British accents, some had indistinguishable accents, and some didn’t have any at all.
It confused me trying to place myself in where and when this story was supposed to be taking place. It was a fantasy realm, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that the culture necessarily would ignore norms from our own world.
One of those norms is that in a community people all tend to talk alike, for the most part. There are exceptions, but when you go to Boston, you run into people with a Boston accent. When you go to Calgary, you run into people with a Canadian accent, and so on.
In Goat’s Corner, it didn’t seem like that was a thing, which caused some confusion for me.
I also thought overall that the second half of the show works much better than the first half.
The idea of switching bodies with a necklace is a fun one, as is the only way to tell who is who being the stutterer. That’s a solid concept to explore on stage. As is the idea that our hero discovers something at the end that changes the way everyone in her hometown functions. That’s something that you want your main character to be able to do in a play.
I also noticed some real progress in some of the actors. Sawyer has come a long way since his first show at UGF. It feels like this was the perfect role for him to showcase his talents. He had some fun parts and I found myself caring what happened to him at the very end.
Siomara, too, has shown some considerable progress in her acting, as well. Her take as the Empress made me smile.
And, while I didn’t really care for her French Traveler character, it was a small blip in her otherwise solid performance.
Amanda Cetnarowski also did well in her first go as a lead character.
At times her voice might have bee hard to hear, but overall I followed her fine. I’ve talked to some other people who said they couldn’t understand much of what she was saying, but I did not find that to be the case.
Compared to all the other leads I’ve seen perform here in Great Falls, she has nothing to be ashamed of with her performance and should be encouraged that she did quite well by and large.
The same goes for the bumbling guards played by Patrick Raya and Claudia Hewston. You couldn’t help but giggle at their plight.
Overall, though, I left wishing I was laughing more than I was throughout the whole piece.
It’s billed as a comedy, and I think there were some funny elements in there, but I just was not laughing much from start to finish.
Whether that’s because I don’t understand the humor that was on display, or it wasn’t all that funny, well, that’s part of the beauty of live theater — one person can leave the show loving everything about it, another person can leave hating it and neither person is wrong.
I still give it my recommendation even if I didn’t think it was Michael Gilboe’s strongest show he’s produced. Because despite it’s flaws, there’s still fun to be found here with some interesting, great looking characters.
If you can get over it’s initial weirdness, by the end you’ll likely leave the theater with a smile on your face. ‘A Tribulation in Goat’s Corner’ plays Friday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22. It’s appropriate for most audience members of all ages.