When a play opens on a Monday night, you might expect to be in the realm of “alternative” or “experimental” theater — intended for intrepid buffs of the edgy side of things who are willing to venture out on an evening not even close to an upcoming weekend.

Playwright Jason Wilkins’ new “Shameless! The Musical” opened Monday for a relatively brief run. But with only a few gentle shots taken at the genre, fans of traditional musical theater, if they have an open mind, won’t be disappointed by this latest production of the Mad Horse Theatre’s Dark Night series. 

“What makes a family?” is a fairly conventional theme for a musical theater piece. Of course, we are talking here about definitions of family which, alas, still generate controversy in America.

So there’s a message to the Peter Brown-directed show.

The (non)acceptance of gay relationships is front and center in Wilkins’ view of a country in which politicians, religious leaders, media personalities, parents and friends rant and rave about how they believe God wants us to live. 

The song and dance employed to develop this theme are largely folk-based and consonant. Wilkins’ songs, for which he plays accompaniment on guitar alongside Shane Van Vliet on keyboards, include a couple of fugue-like arrangements for vocal ensemble that especially impressed in a show that entertains on many levels.

Michael Tobin plays a firebrand preacher who condemns all those who do not conform to his selective and narrow reading of the Bible. When one of his assistants, who he views almost as a son, turns out to be gay, a cover-up is seen as the only answer.

As the conflicted young man, Bartley Mullin used his angular physique to good advantage as he seemed to be whipped about, weathering torrents of advice from the preacher he admires, his own gay father and a seductive news reporter (Benjamin Row).

Megan Jackson, as the young bride who gradually emerges from the closet herself, was particularly good in traversing the play’s range from comic to sincere. Jonathan Carr was a hoot as the father, armed with an arsenal of sardonic lines and gestures, as well as a heart of gold.

Cathy Counts completed the cast as the preacher’s wife who brings her blustery husband around to a more sophisticated worldview by the final number.

Songs, dance, laughs and hope — more than enough for any night of the week. 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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