Allyson Adams. Photo courtesy Allyson Adams

A Valentine to the Old West

The path to “Howl! A Montana Love Story”

Virginia City’s very own playwright Allyson Adams has always been bold. Afterall, she was the mayor who arranged for 400 goats to come to the town to clean-up noxious weeds in lieu of using chemicals long before such a move was fashionable. The story hit international news. She was interviewed by India Times and MTV Canada – everyone humored by the fact that there were more goats in the town than people. 

So, she shook things up a bit when she was mayor, but she is also an artist – and not in some kitschy in-your-face way. She is an artist in the true sense – pushing boundaries without really meaning to and finding inspiration in sometimes surprising places. 

“I do think artists should drive a conversation, but I don’t think it is calculated or intentional. I think it just happens,” she said. 

On Nov. 15, “Howl! A Montana Love Story” about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park will premiere at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center (WMPAC). It is a work over two decades in the making. 

“I think the best things come from accidents – things you never plan. I certainly never thought 22 years ago that I would still be working with this. It has had many incarnations. This was just a story I really wanted to tell and I was just not going to give up,” she said. “I am certainly grateful to WMPAC for giving my play a premiere.”

 She grew-up in Hollywood – third generation– but said she always shied-away from it because “it wasn’t the best time in my life.” 

“I’m lucky I found Montana. I love this area – and this play [Howl!] I first did with Ennis kids in 1997,” she said. 

With over 30 plays written, Adams has covered the gamut of topics, once writing about strippers in the critically acclaimed production “PINK” and about the nation’s first congresswoman – Montana native Janette Rankin. 

“PINK” came from personal experience that she fictionalized. “Howl!” came from a newspaper article. “Peace is a Woman’s Job” about Rankin came to fruition after Adams read a book about her. 

“I never set out to do something controversial,” she said. “I’m always just surprised that I make as much trouble as I do.” 

“Howl!” is a love story with a point – a conversation starter; a bridge between extremes. 

“The play is fun, funny, sexy, entertaining, I think it’s a great date play. I hope everybody goes home and… yeah. It’s about relationships. It’s about man vs. nature; wild vs. domestic,” she explained. “The main character is on the wild side and her rancher is more domesticated. They lock horns. He is part of the old way. She is part of the new way.” 

What could be perceived as one of the bigger challenges of the work, finding the rancher’s authentic voice – a role played by Big Sky local Joshua Allen – did not prove difficult for her.

“I dated plenty of them,” she said. “The rancher character is sort of a composite of every cowboy I’ve dated over the years. The rancher is a Valentine to the Old West – to the last cowboy. Some of the lines are the ranchers’ lament.” 

Times are changing in Montana – places where you could pull-over and camp are now blocked with fences and chains and marked with “No Trespassing” signs. As the Montana landscape shifts, ranchers struggle. 

“The land is expensive. It’s tough not to sell. The kids don’t stay. There aren’t many of them left,” she said. 

The reintroduction of wolves is one of many frustrations they face, and perhaps one of the easier targets in which to apply their angst. 

“Twenty-two years later, [the wolves are] still an issue, still very much on the table,” she said. 

Adams said “Howl! A Montana Love Story” will be performed by an all-star cast of Big Sky residents and serious players in the Montana arts scene. 

Cara Wilder is the director and is from Bozeman Actor’s Theater. 

“Kali Armstrong, she is playing the lead. I saw her in one of Cara’s productions and I thought, ‘That’s my girl!’ and changed [Howl!] to a musical. Kali Armstrong just performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for the 50 year moon landing anniversary. She is awesome,” Adams said. 

The cast will be performing George Winston’s previously unreleased music. 

Big Sky choreographer Jennifer Waters will be dancing as the wolf. 

“It’s really quite the lineup. We got to go out to Ted Turner’s ranch and observe his wolves with his wolf biologist. One of the reasons I wrote this play was that I wanted to facilitate dialogue between both sides,” she said. 

There will be a talkback after the performance with Roger Lang, owner of the Sun Ranch during the time the play was written who “did a lot of alternative ranching in dealing with the wolves.”  Amber Rose Mason, an actress and working cowgirl will also be answering questions and generating discussion. 

“It has been so great meeting everyone from the play, all the actors, John Z. [John Zirkle, director of WMPAC] Jeremy [Harder] at the school. It’s really cool to discover this cool little pocket,” she said.


Catch the show November 15 at 7 p.m. and November 16 at 5 p.m. at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

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