Cappies Review of Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold at Madison High School

By Office of Communications
November 27, 2023

Fairfax County Public Schools students are talented actors, musicians, and visual artists. Many FCPS high schools participate in the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre, otherwise known as the Cappies.

The Cappies is a program through which high school theater and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews, and publish those reviews in local newspapers. There are fifteen Cappies chapters across the United States and Canada. 

Editor's Note: This review of Madison High School's production of Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold is written by Sri Vellakkat of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Draw your pistols, wear your bandanas, settle in your saddles, and prepare to explore the Dakota Territory - it's time for James Madison High School's production of Deadwood Dick, Or A Game of Gold!

Based on a series of 19th-century Western novels written by Edward Lytton Wheeler, the show revolves around the small town of Deadwood in the Black Hills and the arrival of the young blind girl Lily Blossom, whose sister, Rose, was stolen away by the mysterious vigilante, Deadwood Dick. As Lily waits for news of her sister in a local saloon (the primary establishment in town), she's met with a cohort of unique figures, each with their own goals' and their own secrets.

Taking the stage as the dynamic duo of Ned Harris and Wild Bill Hickok, respectively, Jonah Uffelman and Bailey Pavitt-Graff filled the auditorium with cheers and comedy. Whether it be drawing nine pistols stored in pockets, hats, and mouths, furtive lovestruck glances at the mysterious Rose Blossom, or a sham trial to frame them, Uffelman's over-the-top expressions paired brilliantly with the casual, easy-going stride and speech of Pavitt-Graff, creating a sense of traditional heroism in the show's slanderous saloon setting.

Madison High School students perform Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold.
Madison High School students perform Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold.

Every good Western needs a great villain, and Erik Bilawski's dastardly Black'n Red proved perfect. Full of moustache twirling and evil gloating, Bilawski carried himself with ease, not blinking an eye as the audience threw popcorn and booed at the deeds of his devious character, whether it be monologuing on his past kills or his plans to secretly steal away a map to a gold mine. Particularly poignant was the dynamic between Bilawski and the damsel-in-distress, Kate Townsend's portrayal of the blind Lily Blossom. Through Townsend's usage of physical tension, tensing her muscles as Black'n Red drew near and loosening when in the presence of the brave Ned Harris, as well as her unfocused forward gaze to depict blindness, Townsend's approach matched brilliantly with the larger-than-life body movement of Bilawski, particularly during a tense scene in the second act where Lily Blossom was set to be auctioned off to Black'n Red.

Through the show, the Set team (Luca Lundquist, Lyn Montalto, Jonah Uffelman, Leslie Payne) created a dynamic environment in the set of Calamity Jane's Saloon, full of hidden exits, swinging saloon doors, and plenty of drinks and decoration, making the saloon feel truly lived in. Full of dart boards, plinky pianos, and even a hay bale, the 1850s feel of Calamity Jane's Saloon was matched perfectly by the costumes designed by Mikenna Corcoran and Ember Burke, giving each character in the ensemble a distinctive, and historical, look. Particularly notable was their costume of Zoey Miller's Calamity Jane, with the multiple motivations and foregone innocence of the character matching with several layers of clothing stacked upon one another and a white trim on the bottom of her dress.

From spinning pistols to a long-lost family to the mystery of Deadwood Dick himself, James Madison High School's production of Deadwood Dick, or A Game of Gold proves a raucous and heart-warming Western, bringing classic tales of the Dakota Territory straight to Northern Virginia.