The History of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, 2011
(Click on photo for larger image.)
One of my favorite movies is Christopher Guest’s mocumentary Waiting for Guffman. The premise of the movie is that the city fathers of Blaine, Missouri (“the stool capital of America”) have hired aspiring director Corky St. Clair to produce a musical pageant in celebration of Blaine’s one-hundredth anniversary.
If you’re familiar with Guest’s other films—such as For Your Consideration, , Best in Show and A Mighty Wind—you’ll recognize Guest’s versatile company of players: Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake and Larry Miller. I’m such a fan of them that I start laughing at the mere mention of their names.
If you’ve ever been involved in community theater, you know all the characters in Waiting for Guffman: the fey director whose “girlfriend” is always somewhere else; the husband and wife song and dance team ; the beautiful female lead, the ditzy ingénue, etc. But this being a Christopher Guest film, these archetypes are all turned askew and played with an improvisational subtlety that makes each one a gem.
The conceit of Waiting for Guffman, a take off on Samuel Beckett’s absurdist Waiting for Godot , is that Corky has arranged for a “way off, off, off, off, off” Broadway theatrical agent to come see the show. The actors, teased by the delusion of having a shot at the big time, ham it up like never before. Only like the elusive Godot, Mort Guffman never makes it to Blaine for the one and only star-spangled performance of Red, White and Blaine.
I was reminded of all this during my recent whistle stop tour of Sallisaw, Oklahoma. I can imagine that Sallisaw is very much like the fictional Blaine. What really caught my eye was the mural, above, that tells the history of Sallisaw, from Cherokee Days right up through the late Twentieth Century. In reality it stretches about 90 feet along the street side of a building. You can double-click on the photo above to see it larger.