MENDOTA — "Wild Bill: An Evening with James Butler Hickok" is actor/writer Walt Willey’s tribute to Troy Grove native and Wild West icon James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok.
Willey will perform the one-person show at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 25, in the Mendota High School auditorium, 2300 W. Main St., in conjunction with Wild Bill Hickok Day festivities in Troy Grove, and with the assistance of the Mendota High School’s theater department and performance arts instructors and students. Tickets will be $20 and available at the door.
This is the second production of the play's regional tour and is sponsored in part by Starved Rock Country. Willey was recently appointed Community Arts Adviser for this organization.
Willey, an Ottawa native who for nearly 25 years played Jackson Montgomery on the long-running daytime drama "All My Children," had been looking for a one-man show to take on tour.
“I began to research this man’s life and I was fascinated. Even with the myth and fable surrounding him stripped away, his life is as exciting as any of the fiction written about him. And he’s 6-foot 2, blond and blue, so it wasn’t much of a stretch,” Willey quipped.
“This is a man who was, in his lifetime, a farmer, a teamster, a trapper, a scout, a spy, a marshal, a sheriff, a gunfighter, an actor and a gambler — and a legend in his own time. And he died at 39 years old. In Western movies, when we see gunfighters step into the street for a showdown, it’s because Wild Bill did."
As for the play, “It’s Hickok’s life story from his own mouth. The sources I’ve used are the ones that lean on provable truth,” said Willey. “Now whether Hickok could separate his truth from legend ... well, that’s part of the journey.”
The first-person narration follows Hickok’s life from his birth and adventures in Illinois, through his years as scout and sharpshooter, spy and lawman, gunfighter and gambler, to his assassination in Deadwood, S.D., the infamous mining camp.
The show features audience participation and after the presentation there will be a discussion and question-and-answer period. All guests are invited and encouraged to attend.
Willey, who is co-founder of WilleyWorld Community Productions, is excited to again be working with local students.
“When I presented this show at Mendota High School back in 2012, it was with the help of a student crew,” said Willey. “Superintendent Jeff Prusator and Drama Teacher Amy Wilson once again offered to host the show, and I am honored.”
Willey will return to Mendota High in the 2014-2015 school year to offer the “Wild Bill: In-School Program,” a tailored series offering classes, individual instruction and lectures for students in the dramatic arts.