REVIEW: RATTLESNAKE KATE at the Denver Center
by Taylor Jo Oxley
There have been many tall tales that have come from the West, some more believable than others. Would you believe me if I told you that a farmer from the high plains of Colorado killed 140 rattlesnakes in one afternoon? Would you believe me if I told you they ran out of bullets for their gun and finished the battle with a signpost they found nearby? Would you believe me if I told you they made clothing out of the rattlesnake skins after the battle? What if I told you the rattlesnake slayer was a woman? If you know anything about Kate Slaughterback you know that I am telling the truth. If you don’t know anything about this story, a great way to learn some Colorado history would be to get yourself to the Denver Center to see Rattlesnake Kate.
I enjoy historical theatre, as it teaches us about the past in an entertaining way. I did appreciate this production, but for me it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. The music (Neyla Pekarek) was smartly written and complimented the story (Karen Hartman) nicely. Even though we saw Kate’s life from beginning to end, there was something about this show that left me feeling empty. I did however appreciate the range of ways Kate was portrayed throughout her life. I felt angry for how Kate was treated by men, but empowered when she overcame every single obstacle thrown at her. The decision to have different actors play her in different times of her life was genius and lent itself well to character growth.
I believe the casting choices for the three roles of Rattlesnake Kate (Katie, Kate, Katherine) were perfect. Leana Rae Concepcion embodied the youthful excitement of Katie with the bright eyed exuberance she brought to the stage. Alyse Alan Louis showed strength and determination in the role of Kate, as well as a badassery that I would not want to mess with. Our last view of Rattlesnake Kate is Katherine, played by Andrea Frierson. We see an older, wiser, and ever stubborn Katherine at the end of her life. Frierson hurts my soul (in the best way) with “Brownie’s Goodbye”.
The ensemble in this production is stacked with talent. Jada Simone Clark had my eye every time she was on stage. The fantasy duets between Clark and Isaac Huerta were dreamily executed with ease making them an absolute joy to experience. Commendations must be
given to Esteban Suero for his portrayal of Ernie. The audience got to witness the beautiful growth of this character that culminated in a powerful solo, “I’m Getting Out”. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the vocal talents of Matthew Bryan Field and Gina Naomi Baez who
each had chill evoking solos in the second act.
This show was a wonderful sight to see. The technical elements were practically perfect, save for some audio mix issues in the first act. Kiara Zieglerova crafted a mountainous set that provided a playful yet raw backdrop for each scene. The set automations were impeccable and seamlessly elevated her concept. The lighting design by Elizabeth Harper complimented every mood with vibrant warmth. I was refreshed by Harper’s use of color throughout the production.
When I think of what people from the high plains in Colorado would wear in the early 1900’s it doesn’t seem accurate that I would be excited but Sara Ryung Clement not only executed an accurate depiction of the times within her costume design, she did it with flair. I appreciated the small details of the actors clothing and really enjoyed the different pant styles that were used throughout.
Even though I don’t totally understand what was missing in Rattlesnake Kate for me personally, I do believe that it was an evening well spent. I would encourage theatre and history lovers alike to attend a performance. If anything, you will leave having experienced wonderful music, great acting, and a visual delight.
Rattlesnake Kate is playing at Marvin and Judi Wolf Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts now through March 13. Tickets are available visiting denvercenter.org or calling 303-893-4100.