"This glorious score and relevant and timely story need to be seen and heard."
-Coral Colón-Muñiz, DC Metro Theater Arts, 2016
"The Outcasts of Poker Flat may be the best Wild West opera you'll ever see...
It represents the best of Fringe [Festival]: genre-defying art that challenges audiences to open their minds and break down walls of preconception. Don't miss this one."
-Ben Demers, DC Theatre Scene.com, 2012
The Outcasts of Poker Flat (2009-10, rev. 2012)
Chamber opera in one act after Bret Harte's short story, 70 minutes
Music and libretto by Andrew E. Simpson
Two whores, a gambler and a thief are marooned with two young lovers in a blizzard. Facing starvation, each becomes heroic, cowardly or dastardly. Based on Bret Harte's classic tale of Gold Rush California.
Cast of Characters: Uncle Billy, a thief (bass-baritone); Cassie, a whore (soprano); Lori, a whore (mezzo-soprano); John Oakhurst, a gambler (baritone); Tom Simson, a young prospector (tenor); Piney Woods, engaged to Tom (soprano)
Instrumentation: clarinet (Bb dbl A), violin, double bass, accordion (or elect kybd), percussion (1 player), piano (2 uprights: one tuned, one de-tuned)
Chamber Ensemble Version
Wings of a Dove (blue cast - Nov. 19, 2016)
Emily Casey (Cassie), Christa Nuno (Lori), Katie Bransford (Piney)
Wings of a Dove (red cast - Nov. 20, 2016)
Jenni Dunn (Cassie), Kristin Longwood (Lori), Anna Kelly (Piney)
The Tiny Mountain Chickadee (duet)
Edward Kerrick (Tom), Anna Kelly (Piney)
Version with Piano
Trio (Wings of a Dove)
Ensemble (March of the Grotesques)
Duet (The Tiny Mountain Chickadee)
Cassie's Saloon Song
Summary of the Scenes:
Scene 1. Saturday morning, November 23, 1850. The gambler, John Oakhurst, two whores – Cassie, the younger one, and Lori, the older – and a thief, known simply as “Uncle Billy,” have been expelled from Poker Flat in the wake of recent violent events. Not being responsible for those events, they vent their frustrations at the town and at one another. They need to reach the next town, Sandy Bar, by nightfall, since they have no provisions.
Scene 2. Later the same day. The party has stopped far short of its goal; Oakhurst tries in vain to keep them moving. Uncle Billy discovers a bottle of whiskey, which allows the group to vent its frustrations with Poker Flat in still more colorful fashion.
Scene 3a. Later the same day. Tom Simson and Piney Woods, two young lovers, meet the party. The pair have eloped and are traveling to Poker Flat to be married. All decide to camp for the night in an unfinished cabin near the road; Tom and Piney have brought extra provisions, which they agree to share with the others. Tom and Piney have a moment together before going to bed . . . separately (“The Tiny Mountain Chickadee”).
Scene 3b. That evening. Uncle Billy, angry and bitter, decides upon sinister revenge (“They’re all a Bunch o’ Fools”).
Scene 4. The next morning. A snowstorm overnight. The party wakes to discover that they are snowbound and that Uncle Billy has abandoned them, stealing their horses. Tom’s provisions were luckily safe from Billy’s reach, so the party settles in for a longer wait at the cabin. Cassie reveals to Lori her long-hidden love for Oakhurst. Lori mocks Cassie’s foolish sentimentality, but comforts her real sorrow.
Scene 5. A few nights later. The snow has continued to fall. Around a small campfire, the group entertains itself with dancing and storytelling. Cassie, a performing girl in the Golden Cock Saloon, agrees to tell her own story by way of a floor-show song (“Cassie’s Saloon Song”). Tom tells the group about Homer’s Iliad, but this story comes to an abrupt halt. Lori, who knows that they are doomed, repents of her wasted life and vows to redeem it by one good work (“It’s Snowin’ Again”).
Scene 6a. Two days later. The snow has continued, more furiously than before. Lori is growing noticeably weaker. Cassie, Piney, and Lori, all of whom know by now that they cannot escape, sing of their longing to fly away (“The Wings of a Dove”).
Scene 6b. A few days later. As the snow continues to fall, Lori is desperately weak. She reveals to Oakhurst the great sacrifice that she has made for another member of the party. She dies quietly, exhorting Oakhurst to love Cassie.
Scene 7. Immediately following. Tom agrees to Oakhurst’s last-ditch plan: he will go to Poker Flat on improvised snowshoes and try to bring back a rescue party. Tom and Piney reprise their earlier duet. Oakhurst leaves to accompany Tom a little way towards Poker Flat.
Scene 8. Immediately following. Oakhurst enters alone, having parted company with Tom. He compares his life to the card game that has sustained him through it. The entire recent adventure has been one very bad hand of poker; and as a smart player, he folds.
Scene 9. That evening. Piney and Cassie, now alone, huddle for warmth as the fire dies. Snow begins to come in through the roof, covering them. Cassie reveals her profession to Piney, who already knows and accepts her. Cassie asks Piney to sing to her in her final moments; Piney sings a lullaby she learned as a child. They both fall asleep. Suddenly, Piney wakens, seeing a bright light. She thinks it is the angel of death, a kind spirit who looks like Tom. She cannot wake Cassie, but reaches towards the light and faints just as Tom steps into the cabin with a lantern, leading a rescue party.