Billy Blythe

  • Jessica Wurst
  • Alex Krasser as ‘Billy Blythe’

“Billy Blythe”
Medicine Show Theater, New York City, June 19

Spoiled theatergoers accustomed to well-funded spectacle might arch an eyebrow whenever they hear that a production is foregoing distractions like costumes and props so that “the focus is on the material.” Just like real-estate-speak heralding an undesirable location as mere “minutes away” from a destination, black-box theatrical readings — typically script-in-hand, half-baked recitations to interest investors — have a way of driving home the feeling that you’re not where you want to be, but you can almost see it from there.

Thanks to powerful singing and credible emoting, the Metropolis Opera Project’s development reading of “Billy Blythe,” by now short-handed by most Arkansans as the Bill Clinton opera, emerged as a destination rather than a way-station when the fledgling company brought it to life in Manhattan earlier this week (after billing it as — that’s right — a developmental reading where “the focus is on the material.”). If the 11-member cast did not meticulously summon Hope and Hot Springs as the towns awaited their share of America’s postwar boom cycle and the agitation of the Civil Rights movement, the performers at least executed a quick and vivid sepia-tinged sketch, the most that can be asked of a one-act play — which the work, crafted by onetime Ouachita Baptist University classmates Bonnie Montgomery and Britt Barber, essentially is.