Last night, I was invited to attend the final dress rehearsal of Country Playhouse and the Houston Masonic Library's World Premiere production of LEAVING SAN JACINTO by Diana Howie. The one act drama invites audiences to imagine what the journey on the Yellow Stone Steam Boat may have been like on a certain day in May of 1836. Texas is a new nation, having just won its independence. Sam Houston, Lorenzo de Zavala, and Santa Anna, three of Texas history's most iconic masons are all on board the Yellow Stone. The boat leaves Harrisburg, Texas and heads south on the SAN JACINTO River towards Galveston, allowing these three men a great opportunity to come together and even converse.
In her author's note, Diana Howie points out that the imagined dramatic conversation she constructed is not an improbability. She explains, that if it did happen, Santa Anna would have most likely spoken to Sam Houston through Colonel Almonte, his primary translator, and it would have probably occurred in an inside cabin instead of on the bow of the steam boat. History indicates that these three men were all present on this fairly short boat ride, and Diana Howie steps in to create a fascinating study of each man's character by allowing them the opportunity to converse. She fills the dialogue with as much factual information as possible, writing characters that are as honest and true to life as possible.
Dianne K. Webb directs LEAVING SAN JACINTO with a deft eye for detail and nuance. She and her cast found themselves so intrigued by the words gifted to them by Diana Howie that they found themselves thoroughly researching the three men portrayed. Using their combined knowledge and expressing the script to its full potential, Dianne K. Webb has directed the cast to deliver authentic performances that are riveting and enthralling. The audience is realistically transported to the Yellow Stone on that fateful May 1836 day.
As Sam Houston, J. Cameron Cooper showcases his brawn and desire to uphold decorum. Despite acknowledging Santa Anna as an enemy, he maintains that keeping Santa Anna alive is integral to Texas maintaining its independence and its success as a young nation. J. Cameron Cooper ensures that Sam Houston's respect for human life and dignity is both compelling and tangible in performance.
Daniel Perezvertti's Lorenzo de Zavala is fascinatingly caught between loyalties. He pristinely portrays de Zavala's love for his Mexican homeland in spite of his disapproval of Santa Anna's ruling the nation. Also, having served for both Santa Anna and Sam Houston, the audience sees the complex, tangled web of allegiance, camaraderie, and companionship that surrounds Daniel Perezvertti's Zavala's heart and mind.
Yet, the most beguiling and captivating performance comes from Scott McWhirter's portrayal of General Santa Anna. Having been raised in Texas, I am familiar with the heroism of Sam Houston and de Zavala, but I was never educated in Santa Anna's own heroics and humanism. Diana Howie and Scott McWhirter have crafted a character that is multifaceted and made believable with various motivations for his actions. We see a man worried about his reputation. We see a man with great strength and passion, showcasing how he was able to lead the Mexican army with such great success. Scott McWhirter's Santa Anna is by no means the hero of the show, but it is invigorating to see a persona so demonized brought to compassionate, sparkling life. He allows the audience to know Santa Anna, the man-not the legend.
John Kaiser lends incredible vocal dexterity to his Cast of Thousands. Mostly unseen, he alternates between many different personas with ease.
Before the show begins, The Lone Star Cowboys (Michael Butler, David Singleton, and fiddler Lewis Case), a band made up of members from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Speakers Committee, play music from the period leading up to The Battle of SAN JACINTO. They perform the stirring music with visible gusto. The audience cannot help but tap their toes as The Lone Star Cowboys set the mood and tone for the performance. Also, it is a real treat to hear the historical music of Texas.
Following Dianne K. Webb's Set Concept, the Set Design by Drew & Nick Hoovler is fantastic. They have built an incredible representation of the steam boat's bow. It is highly functional and looks great on stage.
Deborah Blake's Costume Design perfectly represents the clothing worn at the time. Her costume design reflects the paintings displayed at the SAN JACINTO Monument, which adds another great layer of realism to the production.