Allison McCall and Noli French are confronted by Daniel Cuff in “Tumacho” at Mad Horse Theatre. Photos by Kat Moraros Photography

Mad Horse Theatre has long shown a willingness to roam far off the beaten path with unusual comedies that contrast significantly with the more serious plays it presents.

For the final show of its 38th season, the company’s wacky side is back in a crazy play that holds just enough of a message to eventually bring it all home.

Ethan Lipton’s “Tumacho,” from 2016, is a play that wanders into near-absurd territory with its story about eccentric townsfolk facing unusual challenges. Add quirky songs and flaky puppets to the mix, and director Jake Cote and the Mad Horse folks have come up with a riotously entertaining Maine premiere production at its intimate theater space in South Portland.

Intimidated by the notorious gunfighter Big Bill (Daniel Cuff), an ineffectual Mayor Evans (Sam Rapaport) tries to stay out of the line of fire while an overburdened Doctor Alonzo (Jared Mongeau) and old-timer Sam (Mark Rubin) try to warn of the impending arrival of a menacing supernatural being. With a long-held grudge for motivation, the devil Tumacho wants to “ravage” them all during what will become some scary/funny scenes.

Sabrina Gallego, Juliet Moniz and Jared Mongeau.

Local scold Prudence (Marie Stewart Harmon) tries to impose order upon faux-macho cowboy Clement (Dalton Slade Kimball), gun-toting vagrant Catalina (Allison McCall), and flirty barmaid Alice (Juliet Moniz) while live wire Chappy (Noli French) flits between the maybe-not-so-bad townspeople. The characters’ costumes (by Shaughnessey Gower) generally fit the period, with a few embellishments added.

Hilarity generally reigns as puppet people, animals and plants (designed by Stacey Koloski) join the often-frenetic human action, which is mostly rooted in degrees of panic. Full-blown musical numbers, accompanied by keyboard, guitar and banjo (directed by Sabrina Gallego, who also gets to act a little), fill the Western-style saloon, which includes a raised stage (set design by Connor Perry). These songs provide some of the most engaging and enjoyable moments in the show. Vocal talents vary, but all serve the tuneful silliness.

McCall musically joins with some dancing cacti for an opening “One-Horse Town” and later gets old-style romantic with Kimball on “No Justice for the Dead.” The cast goes all chorus line on “We Need a Break,” while French expresses love for both Catalina and food preparation during “Chappy’s Rap.”

Jared Mongeau, Sam Rapaport, Allison McCall (collapsed on the bar) and Mark Rubin in “Tumacho.”

Plotlines coalesce gradually as we learn that backstories of several characters revolve around getting even for past misdeeds and injustices.

The men gather around the implications of a certain reading of the play’s title in this two-hour-plus-intermission production. The women’s roles are generally a little more substantial. French is a particular scene stealer, and the funnier moments with McCall are not far behind. Ultimately, an overall message of forgiveness and healing comes through despite all the nutty trappings in this comical closer to the Mad Horse season.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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