The Majestic Kid

Vox Theatre Company, Montgomery County Cultural Center, 208 De Kalb St., Norristown, (610) 279-4248

Aaron "Buster" Weiss (Damon Bonetti) is an idealistic Philadelphia public defender who, with his childhood friend and legal partner A.J. (Krista Schafer), has gone out West to help the Apaches recover their sacred land from the local landowners.

He's also the Wild West hero, the Majestic Kid, in the fantasies he concocts from having seen too many Saturday matinees of B-movie horse operas in his capgun-toting childhood.

Mark Medoff's The Majestic Kid works by contrasts: between the fantasy life of the Old West that Aaron carries in his head, voiced by his imaginary alter ego, the Laredo Kid (Richard Sautter), and the realities of the New West in Reagan's corporate America, where what the Native Americans really want is a casino, where what the villainous local sheriff (John O'Hara) really wants is a toxic waste disposal site for East Coast money interests, and where the local damsel-in-distress (Krysta Bernhardt) is a grad student in land management and an amateur gourmet chef.

But - perhaps it's the script, or perhaps it's Lauren Pierson-Swanson's production - there are no contrasts in the Vox Theatre Company's production of the play at the Montgomery County Cultural Center in Norristown. The New West scenes are played as though they were generic scenes from those Old West oaters. The tone is always parodic, the acting always caricatured (O'Hara is particularly reprehensible in his figurative and literal moustache-twirling).

The Laredo Kid would feel right at home in this world, which drains the play of much of its point. And so, when Aaron finally takes action of an Old West kind, it seems like a surrender, not a transfiguration. And it's harder to believe that he's learned the lessons that the Laredo Kid cannot: that men and women can be equal partners, and that in this world "the good guys and the bad guys are the same guys."

Without these lessons learned, all that's left is the parody, and the play remains an escapist fantasy without the return to reality. As in those old B-movies, no one ever really gets hurt in the barroom brawl: the fist misses the chin by an inch, and the actors say "thock" to make you think there's been a real connection.

-Cary M. Mazer