The Oregon Trail: The Quest for the West!

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Editorial Review

Fringe Festival: Talk goes lame on this ‘Oregon Trail’

By Rachel Weiner
Saturday, July 10, 2011

“The Oregon Trail: Quest for the West!” doesn’t quite make it there.

Theatergoers of a certain age will thrill to the moment in “Oregon Trail” when the lights go down and a parade of animals (okay, actors holding signs shaped like animals) runs across the stage. Every audience member has a pair of rubber balls, and it’s time to hunt.

This interactive scene is both a re-creation of the most exciting part of the Oregon Trail and the high point of the new musical at the Capital Fringe Festival from No. 11 Productions. “Oregon Trail” wants to be inspirational and ironic at the same time; in the end, it’s not either.

We’re not talking about the 2,000-mile dangerous passage from Missouri to Oregon, but the educational computer game dramatizing that passage for generations (okay, a generation) of schoolchildren. It’s that Oregon Trail — the one where you choose your profession, you never ford the river and your friends all die of dysentery — that this musical harks back to.

If you didn’t play the game, you could still enjoy this musical, which has a plot (something about a wagon murder). But if you did love the old black-and-green version, you might be left wishing for something a little more challenging.

What makes the “Oregon Trail” game such a nostalgic touchstone is its punishing bleakness. Almost no one makes it to the West. “Oregon Trail” the show is never as edgy as it should be or as funny as it seems to think it is. The words “manifest destiny” are used many, many times, to no effect.

It’s a shame, because surrounding the lame dialogue are some great musical numbers (from Rebecca Greenstein and Danny Tieger). The costumes and set are well-executed, the acting is good and so is the live piano music. They all deserve a more clever book.