Sweet and juicy barbecue portended a lighthearted Western romp, a fantastical retelling of folk heroes and tall tales. This is, I’m sure, what the Buckhorn Museum™ had in mind as it inaugurated its first theatrical endeavor, the Old West Dinner Theatre Experience.
Happy diners left the saloon and entered the Texas Ranger Museum, where rustic storefronts promised glee in Last Words — A Western Yarn. A comical “turn your cell phone off” bit carried the tone into the first moments of lights-off in the house, but the next 45 minutes waxed perplexing.
Centered on legendary gunfighter and lawman Bat Masterson, Last Words finds our hero shot during a holdup (the audience participation in this scene is the first and last part of the show appropriate for the 12-and-under set). Mythic character Mobius, a carpet-bagging philosopher, talks to an out-of-body Bat and guides him through limbo, or an “Am I dead?” scene. Bat is given a choice — he can impact people’s lives positively and live, or die of a broken heart (if not from drunkenness).
Mobius, played by co-writer and co-producer Paul Tinder, ferries us through time to revelatory incidents in the past, and future repercussions of Bat’s premature death. The ghost of Christmases past and future device should explain why we endure scenes of unrepentant bandits dying horrible deaths, and it should explain why these characters describe in uneasy detail their disfigurements, suicides, and heartbreaks — maybe all this sadness earns us a song-and-dance finale?
But the familiar Dickens trope doesn’t explain anything. The production’s doom and gloom is misplaced in this tourist-hub museum; the narrative itself is confused and glosses over critical historical glue (thankfully, I consulted Wikipedia before the performance). Last Words is slated as a family-friendly, educational comedy, but instead we get a morbid collection of disjointed episodes.
A team of young, talented actors and actresses do well with an intense if choppy script: Zack Wilhelm, a bandit, confronts his death as he delivers a desperate and fevered soliloquy. Leading-man Bat, played by David King, charms just like the real Masterson, but Last Words wraps up before his character can develop into anything of consequence.
The 1960s television series Bat Masterson would better suit the Buckhorn’s intentions, and co-producers Vaughn Taylor and Paul Tinder would do well to follow its cues: Yes, the TV show was a far cry from a History Channel exposé; yes, it was a watered-down and romanticized slice of the Old West. But it was fun.
In seasons to follow, the Old West Dinner Theatre Experience could evolve into a classic San Antonio attraction as its enthusiastic cast and crew learn by trial and error. Unfortunately for San Antonio locals, Last Words won’t be a diversion for your little ones — between startlingly loud gunshots and unsettling frontier realities, you’re better off waiting this one out while the Buckhorn’s
vision gels. •
The Old West
Dinner Theatre Experience
6:45pm & 7:45pm Wed-Sat
Through Aug 17
(includes dinner and a ticket to the museum)
The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum
318 E. Houston