head: Original folk opera to re-enact fatal shooting

Brad shot multi art (use one of his empty little cabin)

VIRGINIA CITY -- Last Saturday, the 7-by-7-foot house of Bob McKinney stood empty on a hill outside of Virginia City. A tattered coupon for a jumbo hot dog hung under the window of the shack where McKinney, known for collecting half-smoked cigarettes and pizza from Comstock trash cans, had lived. Outside in the wind, spots of color remained -- the end of a log painted yellow, one side of a rock painted blue. This was the artwork of McKinney, who had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.

Saturday was the two-year anniversary of his shooting death on Main Street in Virginia City.

Witnesses said McKinney, 56, lunged at Storey County Sheriff's Deputy Mark McCreary with a knife after McKinney had been pepper sprayed. McCreary was exonerated in the death and left law enforcement.

Sunday afternoon, the cast of the original folk opera "The Shooting of Bob McKinney" moved into Piper's Opera House to prepare for tonight's opening performance.

"The center of the piece is this incident, this shooting," said director Bill Beeson on Sunday. "But it also celebrates and examines what it's like to live on the Comstock -- a very unique community."

The one-hour play will open with three "ghosts of the Comstock," Jack Curran, Uncle Patrick and Louis Beaupre, hovering over the town, lamenting the changes they see.

Is the town changing? Was McKinney a victim of that change?

Beeson says yes.

"For a lot of people, the shooting of Bob McKinney was a real turning point in the history of this town," he said, seated in the 118-year-old opera house, where the show will debut.

"You know, this used to be a town where individualism was celebrated -- where a people could be themselves."

But recently there has been an influx of capitalists, he said.

Martin Lane, who wrote the piece in what he called "a two-day burst of inspiration fulled by anger shortly after the shooting," says it's now "Bonanza fakers and crass moneymakers looking out for No. 1."

The entire cast of the play lives in Virginia City except one -- the actor in the role of Deputy McCreary. The music was written by Comstocker Squeek Lavake.

Beeson hopes the performance will encourage dialogue on the Comstock.

What traits will people work to save? Community support? Interest in history? Celebration of individuality?

"If we lose some of these essential elements," says Beeson, "what will we become? Another Knott's Berry Farm?"

Neither the director nor the writer of the folk opera describe McKinney as an upstanding citizen. Beeson described him as "big, scary big," and Lane calls him as a dirty, smelly bum in the play's program.

Yet Lane writes that the homeless man's shooting death should provoke anger in the community, anger at the changes that led to the shooting -- and "anger at our part in them."

Storey County Sheriff Pat Whitten could not be reached for comment.

If You Go

What: "The Shooting of Bob McKinney, A Folk Opera"

When: 7:45 p.m. tonight and Friday

Where: Piper's Opera House in Virginia City

How much: Reserved seats $15, general admission $10

Call: 847-0433


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