Friday, May 31, 2013

Play Review: Tecumseh!

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Amazing production uses outdoor stage well
Cons: Cheesy writing makes some scenes weak
The Bottom Line:
Spectacular play
Uses outdoor stage so well
It's well worth seeing

Tecumseh! Is a Drama Experience Like No Other

On my recent trip to Ohio, a local friend acted as tour guide.  Basically, if she planned it, we did it.  One of the things she planned was a trip to the outdoor drama Tecumseh!  I knew nothing about it before we went, and I've got to say I was impressed.

Tecumseh! follows the life the Native American war leader of the same name.  This Shawnee lived during the late 1700's and early 1800's in Ohio and Indiana and was a big force in leading the Native Americas in opposing the settlers on the frontier.  His brother was directly involved in the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Much of Tecumseh's life seems to be shrouded in speculation.  It is known he befriended a family of settlers who farmed his boyhood home.  However, a romance with their daughter is questionable in its accuracy.  That is included here as a sub-plot, and actually makes for some of the best scenes in the first half.  They also play up a conflict with his brother that lead to the Battle of Tippecanoe, but I have to wonder how much of that was accurate and how much was for dramatic effect.  I wouldn't take this play as historical fact, but I would definitely go enjoy it for drama.

The production boasts a script by award winning author Allan W. Eckert, and they claim it has been praised as the best of its kind in the outdoor drama industry.  Honestly, the script was my biggest problem with the play.  Some of the dialogue, especially the women's dialogue, was rather cheesy.  I'm willing to admit it might have been the actresses' delivery, but it really did seem to be the lines they had to give.  I couldn't imagine anyone making it work better than they did.

The drama is put on from mid-June to Labor Day every summer.  The cast and crew are made up of drama students from around the country, so changes some every year.  The cast I saw did a great job.  They really did their best to overcome the cheese of the script and really drive home the emotion of the scenes.

The play itself is spectacular.  The main stage is made of sand, but there is a water tank behind it.  Yes, at times the actors use it.  There are also stages on the sides build around platforms on rocks.  They use all these stage areas perfectly to tell the story.

When I saw it in early August, the sun hadn't set at the 8PM curtain time.  In fact, the sun provided most of the light during the first half, and we could see most of the stage.  At some point during intermission, the sun had set, and the lighting amazed me.  The part of the stage in use was always well lit, but the rest was in complete darkness.  There were a few times they changed scenes quickly without us even noticing the actors had stepped to their marks on the stage.

They use horses at times as well as guns and cannons from the time period.  In fact, the Battle of Tippecanoe scene gets very loud as they fire these cannons toward the stage multiple times.  It's quite impressive, but did I mention loud?  I covered my ears during this time.  The rest of the gun shots weren't loud enough to bother me, however.

The show is in the Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre outside of Chillicothe, Ohio.  And it is outdoors.  It starts at 8PM and ends about 10:45PM.  You'll need to take the weather forecast into account.  While they will cancel in the event of heavy rain, you'll need to dress for cold, heat, or both.  And you are out in the open, so if it starts raining during the performance, you will get wet.

If you just get to see the play, you'll enjoy it.  But if you can arrive early, they have a behind the scenes tour.  It lasts about an hour, and shows you the wings and where the actors wait to get on and off stage.  They also fire some of the antique weapons and show us some stunts.  It's fun and well worth it for the price.

They also offer a terrace buffet before the show.  It's all you can eat fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, etc.  I enjoyed it, although it seemed popular so was crowded.  Maybe that was just my group of 30+ friends, however.

Finally, they've got a snack shop that is open late afternoon through intermission and a gift shop.

The spectacle of Tecumseh! makes it worth going to see all by itself.  I would research before taking much here as historical fact, but it provides an evening well worth the time and money to see.

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