At Mosley Street Melodrama, goofy cops and robbers are an irreverent antidote to reality

The law-enforcement-themed "Reno County 911" may not be edifying, but it's "pure silly fun." The production runs through July 6 at the popular downtown Wichita theater.

At Mosley Street Melodrama, goofy cops and robbers are an irreverent antidote to reality
Gavin Gonzalez-Myers, Jaslyn Alexander, and Lyle Valentine each shine in the goofy "Reno County 911." Photo courtesy of Jon Kline/Mosley Street Melodrama.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like pretty much everything is a big depressing drag these days. People are unreasonable, the weather is trying to kill us, food costs a fortune, and (apparently) the dating scene is dismal. One antidote for that sort of heaviness is super dorky, slightly off-color entertainment. May I suggest “Reno County 911,” showing through July 6 at Mosley Street Melodrama.

A wise woman (Patty Reeder, the original owner of Mosley Street), once said, “This ain’t Shakespeare. It’s melodrama.” She was right. Modern melodrama productions aren’t meant to be thought-provoking, edifying classics. Scriptwriter Carol Hughes, who loosely based “Reno County 911” on the popular Comedy Central series with a similar name, knows how to combine the right ingredients to cook up a script in this genre. The result is brainless, but in all the right ways. The convoluted tale gives each member of this skilled and clever cast the perfect platform to show off their individual forte. Melodrama director Steve Hitchcock clearly had a great time setting a wacky pace with this bunch. The result is pure silly fun. 

Before the show, cast members invite the house to warm up by joining in a song. This is tradition, and the song is almost always “You are My Sunshine.” In this case we sing along with “Bad Boys,” the theme song from “Cops,” which introduces the show’s law-enforcement theme. I’m hooked.

Then we meet the players. Kyle Vespestad brings his nonstop comedic chops as the villain, Officer Dinkell, an evil idiot who is somehow still intellectually miles ahead of his fellow officers. Our hero, Lyle Valentine (who has a knack for sincere performance, regardless of how goofy his characters are) as Officer Starsky, is an addled but good-natured fellow with “aw shucks” charm. Claire Gerig as the lovely Mary Kate is the ideal comedy melodrama heroine. She brings a manic perky energy that is simultaneously delightful and just a smidge annoying. This makes her a perfect balance for her weird sister, Ashley (Sarah Wine), whose remarkably expressive face and voice give her character a hilarious and slightly scary vibe. 

Gavin Gonzalez-Myers (Officer Hutchinson) is a professional dancer, and as the adorably earnest sidekick, he makes the most of his physical comedy skills. These include an impressively accurate impression of one of those inflatable floppy guys you see on top of car dealerships. The seductive Jaslyn Alexander is a fine choice for Sue Ella Seville, our bossy vamp who is the mastermind of a poorly planned criminal project. All six of these performers are strong actors. In addition to creating engaging characters, all excel at reacting to and communicating with the audience. This is especially true of Vespestad and Alexander, who appear right at home as they josh and flirt with attendees before and during the show.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention that as an audience member at Mosley Street Melodrama, you could have a chance to interact with the cast during the show. These interactions often result in genuine, good-natured laughs, but if you’re the type that dreads that sort of thing, don’t skip the show — just ask to be seated on the back tier. Due to the intimate theater’s horizontal configuration, you’ll be able to see well from any seat, maintain your anonymity, and laugh with (and at) the folks up front. 

The ensemble dons orange jumpsuits for the second-act olio. Photo courtesy of Jon Kline/Mosley Street Melodrama.

Something else you can expect at Mosley Street — and at most contemporary comedic melodramas — is the second act olio, a collection of musical numbers, skits, and jokes based on a theme. For “Reno County 911,” Vespestad (who also choreographs and directs the olio) and Producing Artistic Director Monte Wheeler wrote a variety show, “Orange is the New Orange,” based on the theme of incarceration. One might be appalled by that, for sure, but it gives the cast the opportunity to sing some well-known favorites (“Folsom Prison,” for example) and also to pull out some gems we never hear. We get the chance to experience Alexander belt out “The Oldest Profession” from the 1990 musical “The Life,” a rare treat from this exceptionally talented singer. It’s wonderful to hear Vespestad’s beautiful baritone, too. In fact, all these entertainers have unique and enjoyable singing styles. On top of that, each of them can gamely sport an orange jumpsuit while telling jokes that are mostly groaners. 

In its entirety, the show pokes fun at stereotypes, somewhat in the vein of “The Simpsons.” Mosley’s band, led by Music Director and pianist Dacia Brown with drummer Dan Chisham and guitarist Robert White, keeps things rolling along. It’s a nice accompaniment to a lighthearted escape from our own psychological prisons, for which I’m pretty sure everyone is due.

The Details

“Reno County 911”
Performances take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July 6 at Mosley Street Melodrama, 234 N. Mosley St. in Wichita. Rated PG-13 for some innuendo.
$26-40 plus tax for Friday and Saturday evening and $25-$39 plus tax for Sunday brunch
Learn more.

Teri Mott is a writer and actor working in Wichita, Kansas, where she has covered the performing and visual arts as a critic and feature writer and worked in communications and development at nonprofit arts organizations for 40 years. She is the co-founder of the SHOUT.

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