Justice prevails when The Hamazons take the reins of their new show "Go West!"
This unscripted, two-act performance mixes improvisational comedy with classic Western films as Cil Stengel, Eve Smyth and Kendra Laughery saddle up and ride the dusty trails filled with cowboys, gold miners, saloon girls and outlaws.
"The Western is one of our popular genres. It's a favorite," Stengel says. "There are always guns, death and shoot-'em-ups in Westerns, but when we put the genre in the 'Hamazone,' we give it a lot more humor and heart, even though the West is a rough place. The main theme is justice, and justice always wins."
Performances are set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 3-4, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5, at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at hamazons.com. Tickets will be $18 at the door.
To get each show rolling, The Hamazons take cues from the audience.
"We ask for a word or at least three movie titles to get started," Laughery says. "When I hear something like 'Help, I'm tied to the railroad tracks,' I immediately want to go in a couple of directions. First, the villain, saying, 'Well, little Susie-Q, let me tell you why I'm tying you to the railroad tracks,' or the hero who saves the day. Right away, I would fill in a narrative to support the cue.
"We are equally comfortable in any role," she adds. "We know the stock characters, the archetypes, and we fill these characters in as the story unfolds."
"Some nights any one of us will be the hero, or the villain, the saloon girl, the sheriff's bumbling sidekick," Smyth says. Think Jack Starrett's Gabby Johnson in "Blazing Saddles."
"There are three of us, but in any Western film, there may be 10 to 15 characters, and we play them all — sometimes at the same time," Stengel says. "That's another element of our improvised shows. We're trying to serve the story as much as we can."
There's no way to stop or back out as the shows progress.
"Backpedaling would be a grand thing, but it cannot be so," Stengel laughs. "If we have a mess going on, we have to clean it up. We've got to take care of the characters and the storyline. There's no backpedaling because the audience has already seen it. We can't take it back."
No show is ever alike for these three "Warrior Princesses of Improv." Before they start the second act, The Hamazons check with the audience to get its take on the story.
"We can say that every show will be different," Smyth says. "We don't know what's going to happen. We're inspired by the titles we get from the audience at the beginning, then after intermission, we ask what two characters the audience would like to see in a scene together.
"Sometimes they pick two characters you would never put together," she says. "Sometimes they pick two that everyone is dying to see together. Sometimes they'll pick two characters because they know one of us is playing both of them."
"Sometimes we are just as surprised as the audience is," Laughery says.
The Hamazon's 2017 season of shows is set, and the trio has other genres to look forward to. Look for a film noir-themed "Venetian Blinds" May 6-7; a focus on Tennessee Williams with "The Long, Hot Summer" July 7-9; a Jane Austen-style "Zombie Apocalypse" Oct. 20-22; and "Holiday Classic" Dec. 8-10.
"Each genre is a fun world to exist in as we study and practice," Smyth says. "I would say rehearse, but how do you rehearse improv? I liken it to practicing for a sporting event — there are some moves, some plays, we do together. But come show night, we don't know what's going to happen."