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Melodrama uses ‘Wizard of Oz’ tale to skewer local politics

The cast of the 2019 Fiesta Melodrama’s “Wizard of Oz” parody set out to solve Santa Fe’s affordable housing crisis. (Courtesy of Carrie Mccarthy)

SANTA FE, N.M. — In this year’s Fiesta Melodrama, the story’s heroine must “follow the pothole-filled road.”

The Santa Fe Playhouse’s annual lampoon of local headlines and public figures is a parody of “The Wizard of Oz.” But instead of trying to get home to Kansas, the City Different’s Dorothy is trying to find affordable housing.

The “second annual 99th anniversary” of the Melodrama – called such because no one is quite sure what year it actually began – begins its run this week.

“There’s plenty of national satire, political satire, so we don’t really need to do that, but we do need to handle state and city satire; that’s kind of our job here,” said Andy Primm. He, along with Santa Fe Playhouse artistic director Vaughn Irving, co-direct the local theatre tradition that’s written by a group of anonymous authors.

And this year, Irving said, there was “plenty of local material to work with.”

The show starts with the “blue corn wave” in New Mexico, last year’s election in which all the Land of Enchantment statewide and congressional officials winners were Democratic, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Or, as her name is in the Melodrama, “Michelle Latina Gringa.”

The governor quickly becomes the sidekick – or the Toto-esque character – opposite the heroine, Jamie Dorothy, after the Wicked Witch of the Southwest, named “Thoothana” (which rhymes with the name of a certain former New Mexico elected official), turns MLG into a prairie dog.

Dorothy, described by actor Isabel Gallegos as a “classic ingenue” who is banished to the “South Side” by the Wicked Witch, is having a difficult time finding a place to rent in town. The character name is notably similar to that of Jamie Durfee, the young woman who’s threat of eviction from an illegally rented casita led to the city’s recent Land Use Code change to make it easier to use guest houses or casitas for long-term rentals.

Dorothy, the governor, and the friends she meets along the way must take a journey across Santa Fe to find The Wizard to fix the housing crisis and turn the governor back into a human. Irving wouldn’t say much about the Wizard character, other than he has an office at City Hall.

But in every Melodrama, there is also a villain who serves as the foil to the hero. In this case, that’s Sly N. Test, a devious character from L.A.

“One thing the villain wants is to own all the real estate in town and make everything into an Airbnb,” Irving said.

Besides the local housing shortage and recent statewide elections, the script also references the expansion of Meow Wolf, the state attorney general’s raid of the mayor of Las Vegas, N.M.’s home and office, and, of course, Santa Fe’s potholes.

“We go to the pothole well quite a bit, as did my car during the winter time,” Irving joked.

The show also touches on the upcoming races for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District representative and a U.S. Senate seat. A Valerie Plame character stands in for the “Good Witch” character, and versions of U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver – who are both competing for the Senate seat – make appearances.

This will be Lujan Grisham’s first time as the target of a Melodrama’s parody. Her character is written as a stand-up comedian type, constantly cracking jokes and pulling pranks.

“I think she tries to identify with the younger crowd,” said Amanda Cazares, the local actor playing her.

“Maybe a little too hard,” Irving chimed in.

But in the end, does the Wizard of Santa Fe help save the day for Jamie and her friends?

Primm, careful with what he wants to divulge, said this: “The Wizard lives in City Hall, so he’s not very effective.”

Titled “Follow the Plothole-Filled Road” or, alternatively, “Little Outhouse on the Prairie”; “A Gaggle of Golden MacGuffins Gets Gotten, or Location, Location, Location”; “The Other L.A. Story”; and “A Wack, A Wizard, and A Witch That Gets Whacked” runs until Sept. 15.

An extra week of performances was added this year due to the show’s popularity. The Melodrama also stars Mario Ulibarri, Christina Comer, Abram Klaassen, Tripp Stelnicki, Felix Cordova, Isabel Madley, BJ Stokey, Cliff Russell, Lulu Sulich, Reyna Valladarez and Teagan Wetzel.

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