Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

Boulder City Chautauqua brings history back to life

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Western writer Zane Grey, portrayed by David Fenimore, brings history to life performing a monologue of his adventures Saturday during the annual Boulder City Chautauqua at the Boulder Theatre.

Boulder City Chautauqua

Musician Steve Cottrell entertains audience members with folk tunes such as Launch slideshow »

The approximately 300 people who attended the Saturday afternoon performance of the Boulder City Chautauqua got a glimpse of a colorful character — author Zane Grey.

UNR Professor David Fenimore portrayed Grey at the annual event, dressed in high boots, a vest and a wide-brimmed hat. Grey is an author who lived from 1872 to 1939 and was known for his stories about the old West.

Fenimore spent more than an hour in character talking about Grey’s life and then answered questions from the audience, first as if he was Grey and then from his own perspective.

The event is an annual visit to Boulder City for Jim and Sydney Wickliffe of Las Vegas.

Sydney Wickliffe said she has read about a dozen of Grey’s books — he wrote more than 80 — which made Fenimore’s performance even more enjoyable for her.

“I had no idea his personal life was as colorful as his writing,” she said after the performance.

Doug Haag came to the show to support the Boulder City Hoover Dam Museum, to which the proceeds of the event will go, but he was also excited to learn more about the author.

“I learned some things about his personal life I was not aware of,” he said.

Haag has read many of Grey’s books, which are primarily western romances, and once was on a hike when a tour guide told the group about how the valley they were in was featured in one of Grey’s books.

Marty Rihel said he has never read anything by Grey, but after the event he wanted to now that he knows about Grey’s life.

“You learn a lot more about the person from the Chautauqua than you do from a book about them,” he said. “And he was a very colorful person, and that adds a lot to it.”

Fenimore, who has portrayed several characters at previous Chautauquas, said Grey was a difficult person to portray, even though his life is well documented through letters, diaries and photographs.

“He would never, ever tell you all this. He would never speak in front of a crowd,” Fenimore said of Grey, whose morals often conflicted with his actions.

“Every one of your questions was great and forced him to reveal things that he would never talk about,” Fenimore told the audience.

“His tactic when he met with an uncomfortable situation — which, I think included marital relations and parenting — was just to walk away from it.”

But all sorts of telling details came out in the performance, including details of Grey’s work as an author as well as the harem of women who traveled with him and sometimes helped write his books.

Mimi Julian said hearing the person answer questions in character was her favorite part of the performance.

“The questions afterward brings new understanding of the person,” Julian said.

And she said the scholar’s answers at the end also were interesting.

“You see how they understand the person and how much time they dedicated to studying the person,” she said.

The Chautauqua also included portrayals of Annie Oakley, by Tyler Stewart, and Mary McNair Mathews, by Anita Watson, Saturday evening.

Saturday afternoon’s performance also included music by Boulder City’s Steve Cottrell. The evening performance included entertainment by Clare Tobler’s Every Wednesday Bluegrass Group.

Tickets were $15 for each show, which included admission to the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum.

The Chautauqua is a fundraiser for the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association, which operates the museum and the Boulder Dam Hotel, where it is housed.

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