Late: A Cowboy Song
Custom Made Theatre
One of our currently most prolific and recently most-produced-in-the-Bay-Area playwrights, Sarah Ruhl, returns to a local stage in a production of an early play that foreshadows the themes, the aura, and women of her later, now-well-known/loved works (e.g., In the Next Room, Eurydice, Clean House, Dead Man’s Cell Phone). Like Late’s domestic couple Crick and Mary, there is a naiveté and immaturity in this early creation of Ruhl that causes me at times to shake my head with ‘huh?’ The play meanders and transitions awkwardly at times as a then-younger playwright explores how to set the stage for later important transitions. The two main characters often are more like children than a married couple having their first child, and their reactions to each other are often awkward, over-done, and even silly. Their immaturity is difficult to comprehend or believe at times, but there is also a beauty in their simple ways of looking at themselves and the world that at first draws in the audience to want to know more. However, the more we learn, the more we begin to squirm, impatient for the play and the characters to ‘move on’ and ‘grow up.’
For one of them, there does emerge out of this complacent life an exploration of what it means to find one’s own path to true love and self-fulfillment. Mary, played quite admirably by a young, still-developing actress Maria Leigh, is seemingly stuck and almost smothered with her lover, then husband Crick in a claustrophobic apartment and world, but she begins to break out in many dimensions as she meets a female cowboy, Red, on a supposed ranch outside of Pittsburgh. This ballad-singing muse gently leads Mary into a world of discovery, and Mary’s boundaries are stretched in mysterious and wonderful ways. In what will become typical of Ruhl, boundaries of time, gender, social mores, and even logic are stretched and twisted but all in a pace so not to overly shock either the audience or the main character. Contrasts of personal journeys are often seen in Ruhl; and here we see Brian Martin as Crick retreating further into his set patterns and contented, cocooned life of traditions (like re-watching time and again It’s a Wonderful Life) while at the same time his wife ventures into new adventures and discoveries of Chinese food, riding a horse (wooden, in this case), and just enjoying and being in the big sky world outside that small apartment with her new friend.
I admire Custom Made for time and again taking on plays and musicals that are ‘too big’ for such a small, under-funded company. Their productions like this one are certainly not perfect; and the low budget the Company must work within affects quality of cast, set, and general production value . But, somehow the Company does pull off an evening well worth attendance; and I always walk away saying I will come back again for more.
Rating: 3 E’s