Mixing melodrama and menace, humor and hamminess, Flip Kobler’s “Wild Dust” is an original western that genuinely honors the genre. Despite a few obvious lifted ideas (mainly the vengeful-prostitutes storyline, a la “Unforgiven”), “Dust” offers well-written characters and an involving plot, strongly performed by the Studio City Park Players.
Beginning, as so many westerns do, with a mysterious man stumbling out of a dust storm into a bar/”social club,””Dust” introduces a panoply of diverse women , including prostitutes Belle (Bronwyn Queen), Sally (Ann Mashiyama), Marion (Judith Silinsky) and the oddly silent Denise (Caitlin Philips); the blind Rebecca (Gina Manning), whose stagecoach has been stranded by the storm; Hard Cora (Margie Goodlinas), the town blacksmith; and haughty Mrs. Stiles (Ruth Morrell) and her daughter Gertrude (Nancy Dale), who’s trying to figure out what she wants out of life.
All are waiting out the storm in the whorehouse, the only brick building in town.
No one is what he or she seems, and with everyone trapped inside by the dust storm, there’s plenty of time for exposition. But the story-telling is handled naturally and never feels forced.
Turns out there’s been a murder, and the mysterious man, Cooper (Kobler), is a U.S. Marshal. But this plot twist is small potatoes compared to the monster storm brewing both outside and inside the whorehouse.
The more interesting portion of the play is the conflict between the very different women. The prostitutes fight among themselves, the proper Mrs. Stiles looks down on everyone, Cora shows her gumption by revealing she left an abusive husband, and Gertrude takes it all in and tries to find her own path.
Kobler has done a fine job of fleshing out the characters and making them real, and the entire cast is excellent. Set is effective, and costumes, while flashy, are perfectly suited to varied personalities.
The ending is a bit soft, but it doesn’t detract from what’s gone before.
“Wild Dust,” which is looking for a new home in a larger theater, could be a real success in the right place.