Saturday, February 27, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 52

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 25th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 3

The Great American Melodrama brings the laughs with 'The Mark of Morro'


The Great American Melodrama’s 'The Mark of Morro' follows Mark (Steven Freitas, center) through his struggle at the University of California Oceano, where he fantasizes about the comic book hero El Morro de San Luis Obispo (Philip David Black, right) who battles the corrupt Comandante Monastario (Billy Breed, left).

Oceano takes up all of 1-1/2 square miles of the Five Cities area, but I bet you didn’t know that the tiny town has its very own state university. Well, the University of California Oceano (UCO) may not exist anywhere outside of the Great American Melodrama during its production of The Mark of Morro, but the institution can boast students, including cheerleaders, biology majors, and drama geeks, as well as a campus magazine and a corrupt dean of students.

The Great American Melodrama’s latest production is a hilarious send-up of college life, the Central Coast, comic book heroes, and live theater itself. Melodrama veterans Jordan Richardson and Eric Hoit penned the play. Richardson, though not currently at the Melodrama tickling the ivories, helped arrange and write music with Hoit, who directed the show. PCPA resident actor Peter S. Hadres also lent a hand in choreographing the fight sequences.

Fight sequences? Oh yes, the play opens with a brilliant display of sword skill by El Morro de San Luis Obispo (Philip David Black), who’s an obvious parody of Zorro, a folkloric figure who actually has some local ties. Right in the middle of this sword duel, though, a nerdy college kid comes scooting into the scene in a rolling desk chair, comic book in hand, narrating the entire fight and revealing that the masked man is really a character in this character’s fantasy world.

The Melodrama actors toy with the iconic old-world characters from Morro’s era with a tongue-in-cheek playfulness, but the real fun gets started when we get to know the modern students at UCO. Mark, the awkwardly geeky yet hopeful protagonist, is given great life by Steven Freitas, who says goodnight to the characters on his Lord of the Rings poster with such ease that I expect the actor has some real-life comic book love in his past.

Billy Breed is dripping with greed and corruption as Dean DeVille, the money-hungry villain in 'The Mark of Morro.'

Mark’s sword-swinging inner world is interrupted by his dorm mate Dax’s invasion. Dax—played by Kyle Smith—is a caricature of every surfer brah to skate his way through college. It’s obvious his mind isn’t on his studies when he demands the use of the dorm room for some alone time with his cheerleader girlfriend. Quickly, though, we find that the cheerleader MacKynzi (Tabatha Skanes) is wearing the pants in the relationship—though she’s technically clad in a cheer squad skirt and carrying pompoms.

Our hero Mark gathers a collection of friends on his way around campus. Penelope (Madelyn Adams) is a rival to our lead in brains and geek status. She’s a primate behavior major who only has other students to experiment on. December is the dark and brooding editor of the school magazine. Played by Hayley Galbraith, the anti-social “ninth-year senior” bears an uncanny resemblance to a boxcar-dwelling beat poet I know from high school (he never made it to college), right down to the preaching against “hierarchical power structures.” The group is rounded out by Kevan, an overzealous performing arts major played by Philip David Black.

Catch the show
The Great American Melodrama presents its production of 'The Mark of Morro' showing through April 27. Showtimes are Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 6 p.m. at the Great American Melodrama, Highway 1, Oceano. More info: 489-2499 or

All these students, though vastly different, hold one thing in common: Their respective clubs aren’t receiving any more funding. From the school magazine, to the upcoming production of The Music Man Kevan is so excited about, everything is under funded, except—of course—for the cheer squad. At the budget’s helm is Dean DeVille, played by Billy Breed in a hilariously greasy-looking toupee. DeVille reveals his corruption in a solitary scene in his office, which shows the actor’s knack for song, dance, and reveling in the fun of being evil.

It’s up to Mark to get to the bottom of the dean’s corrupt agenda, and the odd connection between the villain and the cheerleader MacKynzi. Throughout the play we return to the comic-book fantasy of El Morro, from which Mark gets his inspiration to stand up for what’s right and be the hero, even if it means sword fighting, running for student office, or taking to song and dance in the college’s quad. The Melodrama caps off the night with another wonderful Vaudeville review, titled Oscar’s Favorite Songs. The nightcap of a third act is a tribute to all the songs that made the last 80 years of cinema special, and a reminder of the collection of performing skill working each night the Great American Melodrama draws the curtains.


Arts Editor Joe Payne bears the Mark of Morro. Contact him at

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