Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2000
"The Riot Act" makes no pretence at being high art. It is goofy, silly fun created by local folks for local folks. No jokes about the New York or LA scene will go whizzing past your ears here, just broad, bawdy, slapstick humor that is accessible to all.
"The Riot Act" consists of comedy skits, written by director Ronnie Martins and the cast, interspersed by numbers performed by 16-year-old country singer Lita Williams of Adams (more on her later.) Martins and Company have set their goofy goings-on in the fictional hill-billy community of Simpleton, which allows them to use broad country-hick accents and ham it up. Although I might point out that there are plenty of dim-witted people who are not "hill-billies" in this world, using that particular stereotype allows these amateur actors a way to be someone other than themselves, which is what they need to be free and silly.
And they are plenty free and silly all over the place at Brannings. I shall confess here that I was only able to see the first half of the show, so it is possible that they all sobered up and performed excerpts from O'Neill after the intermission, but I somehow doubt it. This show grew out of the experience these actors have had over the past two years developing interactive theatre pieces with Victory Street. Having seen most of their productions, I was able to recognize character types that these same performers had used in previous shows. It is great that they wanted to explore these characters further and that their experiences with Victory Street have given them the confidence and the interest to do so. Victory Street was founded by Adams residents to give their neighbors a chance to be on the stage and entertain each other, and they have succeeded admirably and quickly in that regard.
I had heard about Lita Williams but never seen her perform until last night. She can really sing! I am not a particular fan of country music, but if you are a can guarantee that you will enjoy this young woman. She has the voice and the talent, (and that zebra-striped cowboy hat that I reluctantly didn't buy in Las Vegas!) what she needs now is an act. But she is young and with talent like hers people who can help her develop more stage presence will be by her side shortly. I predict that my attendance at a Lita Williams performance in 2000, will, by 2025, be has historic a moment as when I, as a schoolgirl, heard the 12-year-old Yo-Yo Ma perform. It is always fun to be able to say "I knew him/her when!"
I have been told that during the second half of the show it is singer Eric Underwood who performs. I cannot comment on Underwood, having missed his sets, but I guess they really did pack Lita Williams off before sunset! There is plenty of high-brow stuff around these parts in the summer. I suggest that on July 28 you head over to Brannings, purchase the beverage of your choice, and let your hair down with some good country music and corny hick humor for a few hours. Local theatre is always worth supporting, and you could do a lot worse than "The Riot Act" and Lita Williams.
"The Riot Act", produced by Victory Street Productions, has one more preformance on Friday, July 28 at Brannings Restaurant on the Curran Highway (Rt. 8) in North Adams. Curtain time is at 8 PM and tickets are $8. Call 413-743-9319 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000