Review: A wild, wild ‘Rio Hondo’ at Theatre of Note


“Rio Hondo,” which returns to Theatre of Note this week for a limited engagement, suggests what might happen if your VHS collection of Sergio Leone films were spliced with several seasons of “MADtv” and a jug of rotgut.

Bil Robens’ deadpan send-up of the spaghetti Westerns of the previous century isn’t always coherent, but then, neither are the epics it satirizes. From the preshow montage of vintage films, we’re in for take-no-prisoners mayhem, for which Ben Rock’s projection design and Matt Richter’s lighting and sound are invaluable assets.

Director Jaime Robledo has a field day corralling designer Pete Hickok’s weathered-wood set pieces and a rampant company of Note lunatics into one faux-vista after another. Although the continual scene changes, like the nonstop gunshot victims in the text, eventually lose impact through repetition, it’s still an impressive example of small-theater ingenuity, with the climactic runaway wagon brawl a miniature coup de théâtre.


And the committed ensemble, though not without its erratic aspects, gambols with tongue-in-cheek panache, whether it’s Darrett Sanders’ comically stoic, post-John Wayne ex-marshal, Grace Eboigbe’s drolly no-nonsense madam or Gene Michael Berrera’s sui generis Asian stereotype.

To hear company stalwart Alina Phelan’s defiant ranch owner wax rhapsodic about beef, or to try to pinpoint exactly what planet Phinneas Kiyomura’s corrupt sheriff hails from, is to enter nutbar heaven. Their versatile colleagues leap in and out of various roles and costumer Kimberly Freed’s winking wardrobe, with Lynn Odell and Nicholas S. Williams as standouts.

Robens’ script has its structural anomalies -- for example, presenting the great Kirsten Vangsness, hilarious as the world’s best blind woman sharpshooter, only to have the character gone by intermission. “Rio Hondo” would benefit from revision into a romping 90-minute easy-access vehicle. It could take the international fringe festival circuit by storm. It’s affably goofy, un-PC fun.

“Rio Hondo,” Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Jan 10. $25. (323) 856-8611 or Running time: 2 hours.