Robert Plowman's "The Matador" was a perfect sendoff for the recent national recognition for the Hollins University master's playwright program. It is experimental, oddball, fun, chancy, delightful, unpredictable and, from what we're told, maleable. It may not be the same again.
It plays through Sunday on the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre. It plays evenings through Saturday, with matinees on the weekend. Tickets are $10.
This is pretty much what Hollins Master's Program director Todd Ristau is trying to get at with the program and it's working. This is a play developed at Hollins, by Hollins people (Plowman is a student and an award winning playwright) and presented to the community in Roanoke pretty much as a gift ... as Hollins Theater tends to be.
When we think of Theater at Hollins, we most often think of the wondrous Ernie Zulia and the miracles he produces several times a year with student talent.
Fact is, though, that Todd Ristau has had more of an impact on theater in the region than Ernie has because he's out among the local actors, producing, writing, acting, developing talent. No Shame Theater is his invention and he's constantly keeping theater stirred up in the area. It's so stirred up, in fact, that we're getting a national reputation. A good one. For quality theater at every level.
The play concerns a matador some consider the greatest of all-time, though his record is just 16-7 as he goes against El Toro del Rey. It is a fierce rivalry, much like the one for a sultry damsel/news reporter who spends the entire production trying to fall out of her too-tight, but fetching Spanish dress. Action is punctuated by the wanderings of a random little boy.
The cast is memorable. Drew Dowdy, who is becoming one of Roanoke's best and most sought-after actors, plays the Matador with comic grace; Charles Reynolds is a marvy bull with a Cockney accent; Emma Sperka (who has been in a number of memorable productions at Hollins) is hot-hot-hot as the Dame and Matthew Marshall is just about perfect as the little boy. Danny Reynolds, as the troubadour, holds it all together.
What does it all mean? I have no idea. But the music's good, the acting just about perfect for what this is and the evening thoroughly enjoyable (and--bless Mr. Plowman's heart--only 55 minutes long). Take it in. It's a hoot and it's just so ... well ... Hollins.