Touching departure in award-winning play
“Mr. and Mister” by Robert Matson deals with the potential for accepting difference and diversity on the Oklahoma frontier. Matson was awarded a second place prize in The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation playwriting competition for this script, which deals with expressions of sexual and racial identity among people in a new town in the Oklahoma Territory.
The scene is the stagecoach stop outside the general store, and all the action takes place there. Mr. Stone has sent for a teacher for his niece and nephews; their parents had been recently killed. While expecting a woman to answer the ad, he instead is faced with Mr. Wonder, a young man of strange appearance and intensely private behavior. With this meeting, they two men become locked in a struggle with their differences and similarities.
Stone allows himself to be persuaded by Mr. Hill (Robert Matson in a rare dramatic role), the general store and stage station manager, to accept Wonder as the only teacher Stone is likely to get. Wonder proves himself an able teacher, but both men have to deal with disturbing issues.
Stone is played with focused intensity by Jef Foster, and Wonder is portrayed with restrained stillness by Nathan Dunn. The difference in character style between the two men serves to both heighten the difficulties people have when they are apparently unalike, as well as the problems caused by being too much the same. Dunn in particular gave a performance that might be seen as stilted if the character did not provide rationale for the choice. Wonder has many trials to overcome, and the audience discovers them slowly and in the context of a town far from the rest of social expectations.
Mr. Hanson, played with some ferocity by Matt Tracy, is the local blacksmith; he has lost family to Indian attacks. It is Hanson who questions Mr. Wonder’s origins and exposes one form of bigotry in the town. Other issues of race and relationship are raised in Mr. Hill’s friendship with Mrs. Gray, a young widow. La Chander Crockett gives us a calm and thoughtful Mrs. Gray, who faces the reality of her situation with quiet courage.
Lana Henson is a delight as Winnie, the stagecoach driver, and Heather Newby delivers a charming young girl as Stone’s niece Becka. These two roles bracket the spectrum of a woman’s experiences on the frontier, from the emotionally wounded and vulnerable girl who questions her uncle to the tough and redoubtably self-reliant older woman who accepts what she finds and makes the best of it.
Matson, who is better known locally for his sketch comedy based plays, has delivered here a script that is idealistic and sweet, and that tells a difficult story with optimism for the human condition. He has a solid cast and a flexible set, designed by Terry Lee, and lovely period costumes by Christopher Sieker. The production is well worth the time of local playwrights and theatre-goers, as well as all those interested in the human response to difference and diversity.
“Mr. and Mister” plays at Actors Warehouse Studio, 30 NW 52nd Street in Oklahoma City through April 18 at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday with one matinee on Sunday, April 12, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be reserved through www.rjmproductions.com or by calling 405-562-6877.