(L-R: Sarah Olmsted-Thomas and Alyssa Wilmoth-Keegan in No Rules Theatre’s production of Late: A Cowboy Song. Photo: Second Glance Photography)
Despite the title of Sarah Ruhl’s Late: A Cowboy Song, this early work from a quickly rising playwright is about being trapped rather than being late. The show now playing at No Rules Theatre features a heroine Mary (Sarah Olmsted-Thomas) who is trapped in an abusive relationship and day-to-day bustle that is quickly getting away from her to the point where it feels like she’s living from holiday to holiday. Her exasperated observation about the litany of holidays in a year will ring true to you once you sit down and think about it. Her boyfriend/husband Crick (Chris Dinolfo) is trapped in a perpetual man-child state which involves a love for modern art that borders on unhealthy and extremely needy tendencies. Mary’s childhood friend Red (Alyssa Wilmoth-Keegan) found her escape through her life as a cowboy living outside the city setting of Pittsburgh. The show’s eclectic tastes include musical interludes, interpretive dance, and clever use of props. However, despite a captivating exploration of identity, romance, and the idea of the perfect life, Late is a production trapped in its own complexity. Its lack of polish can be attributed to a playwright’s early work.
Many could go out of the way to associate this piece with praise for Ruhl’s more recent successful work like Dead Man’s Cell Phone or The Vibrator Play, but looking at this show on its own, it feels like there’s a lot going on that doesn’t get resolved.
The main storyline focuses on Mary’s relationship with Crick: both childhood sweethearts that appear to be destined for each other down to the birthday they both share. When they both decided to get married and start a family, things don’t appear as rosy as they once were. While Crick finds solace looking at art in his job as a museum security guard, Mary finds her escape through Red’s companionship, which blossoms into a romance that has a very Brokeback feel.
The idea of identity relies on both Red’s shunning of lady-like stereotypes for the rough and tough cowboy exterior, and Mary and Crick’s feelings towards their child who was born intersex but ultimately declared a girl by the doctors. Crick wants to raise the child with pink toys while Mary wants a more open-minded and gender-neutral approach to traditional roles.
The performances are strong, particularly from Wilmoth-Keegan and Olmsted-Thomas. Wilmoth-Keegan says so much with so little as she fully embraces Red’s cowboy ways. The show gives her ample opportunity to show off her musical chops as well. Olmsted-Thomas entertains as Mary, an anxious worry-wort who is in desperate need of peace. Described as “macho-effeminate”, the role of Crick just felt convincing to me.
Director Rex Daugherty does a great job with the physicality of the production, smartly placing props that give a healthy dose of whimsey. Great performances and a truly creative approach aside, Late: A Cowboy Song is simply a piece that has a lot of potential but shows the green-side of a playwright’s earlier work.
No Rules Theatre’s production of Late: A Cowboy Song performs through January 19th, at Signature Theatre located at 4200 Campbell Ave Arlington, VA 22206. Closest Metro stop: Pentagon City (Blue/Yellow lines). For more information call 336-462-9182.