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Santa Fe, Fiesta in trouble in 2018 Melodrama

SANTA FE, N.M. — A “high-end, East Coast type” is trying to destroy Santa Fe and its Fiesta celebration in this year’s Melodrama.

The nearly century-old Santa Fe tradition, a play created by anonymous writers that lampoons current events and public figures, is now being staged at the Santa Fe Playhouse.

“There’s always plenty of drama and scandal to go around in local politics here,” director Vaughn Irving said while discussing what the show’s writers used as inspiration this year.

The 2018 Melodrama centers around a Santa Fe newcomer, Dick Phillip-Lay, who moves to town to start a restaurant.

“He’s starting a restaurant called Cheeks-Phil-A, which is a mash-up of two well-known Santa Fe establishments,” Irving said with a laugh.”But he has ulterior motives that are mysterious, but we know they’re bad because he’s the villain.”

Co-director Andy Primm described the character as an outsider who “wants to help Santa Fe find some culture.”

“Real culture,” Irving added sarcastically.

It is up to the show’s heroes, journalist Calamity Daniels and former Fiesta La Reina Lorena Larrañaga, to foil his evil plot. Though the cast and directors are tight-lipped about most of the plot so as to not give away the jokes, they said the crux of the drama is Dick’s goal is to destroy – and commercialize – the Fiesta.

Roxanne Tapia, the actress playing Lorena, says revenge is at the root of Dick’s plans. But what the revenge is for isn’t revealed until the end of the play.

The decision among Santa Fe leaders to discontinue the Entrada – Fiesta’s controversial pageant celebrating the Spanish re-occupation of Santa Fe in 1692, 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt – in late July caused some last-minute script additions for the Melodrama.

“Entrada in the play also gets cancelled,” Tapia said. “Maybe not for the same reasons, maybe so.”

In true Melodrama fashion, the show takes aim at timely local stories of all kinds. According to Irving, topics that are lampooned include the recent City Council resolution discouraging the use of plastic straws, the talk of revitalizing the Midtown college campus, reference to an “unnamed collaborative arts organization” (such as, perhaps, Meow Wolf) and scurrilous allegations that a real-world lawsuit makes about State Police Chief Pete Kassetas.

Also, “there was an event held a few weeks ago. A controversial event that was sort of a first for Santa Fe that put some people up in arms,” Primm teases.

This year is a transitional one for important political figures. Irving said it’s the Melodrama’s last chance to poke fun at Gov. Susana Martinez before she leaves office – her character will make just a quick cameo, he said – but new Mayor Alan Webber means a fresh, new character for the writers.

It was difficult at first for the group to figure out how to make fun of Webber, said Irving, but as time went on, they decided to make his caricature someone who doesn’t seem to know too much about what’s going on around him.

“I think they’ve made him very earnest and wanting to do grand things,” said Scott Plunket, the actor playing mayor Don Coyote. “He’s just pursuing that so hard his feet aren’t on the ground. His head is constantly in the clouds. He’s easily swayed by whoever is whispering or shouting in his ear.”

The Melodrama – with alternative titles “A Duping Duplex of Dastardly Developments”; “The Straw that Broke the Horse’s Back”; “Turn the Other Cheeks”; “A Conniving Couple of Cads, a Calamity, a Crank, and a Clanker”; and “10 Ways Straws Can Suck the Life out of You” – runs until Sept. 9.

Other cast members include Christina Comer, Evan Galpert, Felix Cordova, Phil Johnson, Katie Johnson, Tristan Van Cleave, Micky Dolan, Lulu Sulich, Rayna Valladarez, Michelle Artiga, Cliff Russell and Mitchell Gustin.