Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014-07-20 Late: A Cowboy Song

I was fortunate enough to be invited to go see The Weird Sister's Theater Project Late: A Cowboy Song's preview last week at Actor's Express.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am friends with Christen Orr, the actor playing Red in this production.

The show is nestled on top of Actor's Express production of The Rocky Horror Show so the setting is very much found space with the elaborate Rocky set wrapped in black and the floor is covered in a painted drop cloth.  It is a very interesting way to make a set being used for such an opposite feel work with only the occasional glossy red marble from Rocky peaking through.  The rest of the set (designed by Lee Maples) seemed very literal as there was talk of being fenced in and the set was comprised mostly of chain link fence.  Though appropriate, I would have liked to have seen something a little deeper.

The script, written by Sarah Ruhl, is a bit jumpy and hard to follow at the beginning of the story.  The opening seemed very forced with trying to establish the central relationship.  I don't know if it was because it was the first showing, the director's choice or how it was written, but the relationship between Mary and Crick did not seem natural.  The scenes were short and the scene changes were as long as the scenes they were between.  The second half the transitions went much quicker and the holiday montage was pretty amusing.  The second half explained many of the choices in the first, I just wish we hadn't had to wait so long for things to become clear.  The script dealt with multiple issues such as abusive relationships, gender identity, sexual orientation and traditional genders roles.  These were a lot of issues to cram into a show that was around an hour and a half long and made dealing with each issue seem weaker than if the author had chosen to pick just one to have as the focus of the story line.

One of the choices I thought was interesting was not having the baby be a doll and was instead portrayed by a blue light.  Once I understood that was the case it was a nice touch, but it did take a minute to realize what was going on due to site lines as it was not always visible from where I was sitting.  In general, I understand that the lighting design (done by Tara O'Neill) was probably difficult for the same reason the set was hard, as it was focused for Rocky, however, there were moments due to the angles of the lights that the audience was blinded by the LEDs used.  I am unsure if this could have been avoided somehow, but it was very distracting during the show.

Over all the acting seemed to match the intention of the script, but some of the directing (which was done by Jaclyn Hoffman) felt like very obvious first choices and I think it could have been pushed further and emotionally deeper.  Crick, played by Jacob York, was the emotionally abusive husband with homophobic tendencies, who went between nice guy to possessive, needy and jealous.  It was not an easy role and I think York did a pretty good job with what he had to work with, however his nice guy was much more believable than his villain.  After seeing his amazing performance in 7 Stages 2013 production of Topher Payne's Angry Fags, I know he has a lot more to bring to the table if he had been pushed in the right direction.

Mary, played by Kelly Criss, was a very complex character with the internal struggle between her childhood love, her intersex child and confusion as to her sexual orientation.  The underlying emotional struggle was there in many of her scenes, but again some of the directing choices seemed to actually be holding her back.  I really felt she had a lot more to give to the role.

Red, played by Christen Orr, was the stereotypical lesbian cowboy playing guitar and wearing chaps.  As someone who grew up around horses I felt that the chaps were unnecessary in inappropriate in the non-horse scenes, but that may have been due to time constraints for costume changes to work.  Some of the highlights were when Orr played guitar and sang during some of the scene changes where the songs were funny and complimented the previous scene.  They also gave the audience something to do rather than just sitting in the dark waiting for the many scenes changes to finish.  As the role was written to be stereotypical that is what you get from Orr and it is appropriate, but I would have liked to have seen more layers than the stereotypes that we keep trying to reject in society.

Speaking if highlights, the shadow puppet of the horse, created by Beau Brown, was amazingly well done. The joints were articulated and very much represented an actual horse. I do wish that the actors had also been behind the screen and the scenes with the horse were purely in shadow. With the actors standing in front of the screen interacting with the horse it was sometimes hard to see duty sightlines as the actors bodies were actually blocking their shadows.  Due to this site line issue there was actually a very powerful moment at the end with the shadow of Red, Mary, Blue and the horse that was almost completely lost due to not being able to see all of the shadows.

Overall I wasn't wowed by the preview, but I did see that it had a lot of potential and I hope that during its run it reaches it.  Though nothing can be done about the script, I think that if they can settle out of their roles it can still become a show that the actors can be proud of.

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