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Gate House play transports Port McNeill to the old west

The Wily Wild West is set 150 years ago in 1867.
HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO The Wily Wild West was performed at the Gate House Theatre

The OrcaFest play The Wily Wild West transformed the Gate House Theatre into an authentic saloon from the gold rush days.

Set in August 1867 in the fictional town of Montgomery in the Cariboo district of British Columbia, the play ran from Aug. 18 -19 during OrcaFest weekend.

“We have done this play called The Mad Breakfast for two OrcaFests in a row, which is a farce, and for Canada’s 150th I thought I would deconstruct it and reinvent it,” said playwright Terry Eissfeldt, explaining the idea of setting it in the Cariboo happened simply because there was no saloon in Port McNeill 150 years ago.

“Port McNeill didn’t exist in 1867, so I just picked the Cariboo!” laughed Eissfeldt.

As well as writing the play, Eissfeldt stars as Cordelia a saloon girl who is determined to stop the owner of the Golden Goose Saloon from selling his establishment to a “dandy” from Toronto named Fred Penny, played by Andrew Waines.

Cordelia and fellow saloon girl Emeline, played by Shael Faber, team up to trick Fred Penny and discourage him from purchasing the Golden Goose.

With a well-stacked cast, expertly designed set, musical numbers, and elaborate costumes, the hour-long play rightfully received many laughs from the audience.

The play was directed by first-time director, Jess McLaughlin, who is also Eissfeldt’s daughter. “I have always wanted to tell people what to do when I am acting in plays but I don’t cause you’re not supposed to,” laughed McLaughlin.

She said she asked the actors to come up with a backstory for their characters, and ran through scenes two or three different ways before deciding what was most comfortable.

“They are all experienced - it’s a pretty small pool of us who have been doing this for a long time,” said McLaughlin noting most of the actors have been in many other Gate House productions. “But it was fun to try different things and do it from different perspectives,” she added.

The production’s piano player George Picklyk, who used to reside on the North Island, even traveled all the way from Nanaimo to participate in the play.

The only fresh face was Doug Menzies, who played a gambler named Frank Fairchild, as this was his first time acting in a Gate House production.

“We are always looking for new people,” said Eissfeldt explaining the fall production of Arsenic and Old Lace is in need of more male actors.

Arsenic and Old Lace, a play famously adapted to film in 1944 starring Cary Grant, will be produced by Sequoia Cole, who also did makeup for The Wily Wild West.

HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO The cast of the Wily Wild West pose on set of the Gold Goose Saloon