Throughout the school year, Fairfax Extra publishes occasional reviews of high school shows written by student critics under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. Now in its seventh season, the program recognizes the achievements of young performers, writers, directors and stage crews. For more information, visit www.cappies.com.

The pianist quietly sat down, her fingers poised above the keys. The notes started slowly, transforming into the lazy, carefree music associated with the saloons of the Wild West.

So began Herndon High School's recent production of James McLure's "Wild Oats," a quirky comedy made up of singing bar-girls, colonels, Shakespearean thespians, Mexican tenants and even a human cactus.

Dubbed "a romance of the Old West," Wild Oats is the hilarious story of aimless thespian Jack Rover, who falls in love with the strong-willed Kate Thunder and finds his long-lost family in the desert town of Muleshoe.

Leading a strong and enthusiastic cast, Alex Dobbs gave an uproarious performance as the Shakespeare-loving Jack. Dobbs fully embraced the over-the-top style of "Wild Oats," using wild gestures and animated facial expressions to great comedic effect. The chemistry between Dobbs and Jordan Garegnani, who played Kate Thunder, was realistic. Garegnani did an excellent job of portraying her character with lots of energy and irony in her words, reflecting Kate's quick wit. Both Dobbs and Garegnani had excellent timing.

Many other members of the cast also garnered a great deal of laughter from the audience. Rob Snow and Joe Fleming, as the acting duo of Mr. Kliegle and Mr. Leako, used exaggerated expressions and booming voices to create amusing caricatures. Emma Jasper as Amelia Dolores Morales, a poor tenant and Jack's mother, delivered her witty lines with great articulation and energy.

The most memorable scene involved the human cactus, Dan Claff, and a dancing bear, Bexar Drake, presented with an absurd composure that had the audience roaring with laughter.

Herndon's production was strong technically. The complicated lighting, designed by Julian Karlen, used many different colors in the background to portray the scene's mood. Spotlights were used to isolate characters when they needed to address the audience without anyone else onstage hearing, a technique that was both hilarious and effective in bonding with the audience. A few lighting cues were missed in the second act, but the performers handled this successfully.

The costumes, designed by Meagan Carrick, enhanced the show greatly by developing the Wild West setting with cowboy boots, jeans and showgirl dresses. The set, designed by Nick Moore and Dustin Vandenberg, also gave the show a very Western feel. The set involved numerous pieces, including a bar and student-built swinging saloon doors and a love seat. Although the set's complexity made for long set changes, Herndon cleverly used singing bar-girls and the pianist to occupy the time.

An adaptation of a Restoration comedy, "Wild Oats" is a challenging play for any high school to produce. Herndon met this challenge, making the show look effortless and wooing the audience with its "wild" humor.

Jacqueline Chu

Lake Braddock Secondary School

She likes him, but he's pretending to be someone else, and he thinks he's related to that guy, but in actuality . . .

Yee hah! Taking the audience to the Wild West, Herndon High sowed its "Wild Oats," a delightfully enthusiastic production chock-full of Shakespearean quotes and deliciously naughty innuendos. (Shakespeare, a scandalous writer himself, would be proud.)

At the Last Chance Saloon, the bar girls are dancin,' the cowboys are shootin' and the sleazy preacher from the Church of Suffering and Denial, Ephraim Smooth (played by Julian Karlen), comes to convert everyone's souls -- and not for the better. Soon we see Col. Croftus Thunder (Chris Patterson) galloping in on his "horse." There we also meet the colonel's outgoing, spunky niece, Kate Thunder (Jordan Garegnani), who meets Harry (Bexar Drake), Jack (Alex Dobbs) and Harry's goofy pal, Muz (Tom Snow).

Kate falls in love with Jack, who is disguised as Harry Thunder and is obsessed with Shakespeare, when she is supposed to marry Harry Thunder, who is under the name Dick Buckskin. Are you still with me? When the colonel gets suspicious, he goes to Kate, who is oblivious to what's happening. Jack, still disguised as Harry, tries to convince the colonel that he is his son so that Kate won't find him out, but the colonel knows better. And still, there's more.

This old fashioned comedy-melodrama, inspired by Shakespeare and written by James McLure, has a wild, convoluted plot as well as unforgettable lines, effects and characters. There were more memorable lines than one could remember by show's end.

There was the potential for this script to become a train wreck, but the impeccable comedic timing of the Herndon students and the obvious joy they exhibited made the show a delight. Standout performances among the uniformly excellent cast included Dobbs, whose physical comedy and facial expressions were unbearably funny; Garegnani, whose stage presence and accent changing were wonderfully clever; Karlen, whose smarmy persona delighted the audience; and Patterson as the charismatic colonel.

Other comedic roles included Rob Snow's Mr. Kliegle and Joe Fleming's Mr. Leako, both of whom kept the audience roaring, Bexar Drake as the Bear, and the techie, the Train, who garnered some of the biggest laughs.

A fabulous feature of the show was the color scheme in the gorgeous lighting. They were beautiful, radiant, Skittles-colored lights. Especially effective were spotlights highlighting asides to the audience. Crashing thunder, galloping hooves and a host of other sound effects, all perfectly timed, added that extra fun touch. The set changes, though sometimes awkward, were covered well by the singing bar-girls (Sarah Rubard, Sarah McGrath, Samantha Nees, Kate Parkin, Katrina Rodowski and Noelle Rosenblum) and by lovely performances from pianist Gale Williams.

Great comic skills, fun fights, bright lights, good music and sound effects and, most important, actors who weren't afraid to make fools of themselves, created a show that made you want to get up and join the cast.

Chelsea Cook

Home school

Alex Dobbs, left, plays Jack Rover, Bexar Drake is Harry Thunder and Tom Snow performs as Muz in Herndon High School's production of "Wild Oats," a comedy set in the Wild West.