Monday, June 24, 2013

Rodeo Town by Graham Bowlin

L - R, Eric Cire, Harry Beer, Dustin Bayers

By Joe Straw

(Cue the Ennio Morricone music and say this in your manliest voice: In Rodeo Town, a man has a certain smell, a living, breathing, dying smell.)

I walked out of the theatre that night drenched in an odor that lingered because of a particular scene.  An actor entered with a headless prairie dog. The other actor took possession of the dog, wrapped him in magazine, and threw him into a sack.  As the scene progressed, the prairie dog was still squirming and someone had to put an ultimate end to his writhing life.

Three or four whacks were necessary to render the carcass completely lifeless.  And, with each whack, blood shot out of the sack and sprayed two of us in the second row.  When the actor lifted the sack, blood dripped out, no – that’s an understatement, it poured out, onto the ground. 

I don’t know what it was about the smell, but it was atrocious.  And when the show was over, the smell stayed with me, in my lungs, and in every breath I took.

The stench remained as I walked into the darkness to my car and at this point the smell was overpowering.  With my hands on my knees, I exorcised what little remained in my system, there on the street, in the darkness, in Hollywood.

The next morning – Saturday, I woke up to run errands and there were still traces of a foul odor. What is that smell? When I opened my car door, and looked in, I found bloodstains all over the seat. You just never know what you bring home from theatre. - Narrator

A man has to be manly in Rodeo Town or die being a man.

In Rodeo Town, a man can get all he wants even what he doesn’t want.  

Sometimes, in Rodeo Town, you’ve got to shoot and eat a little prairie dog, and wash it down with a nice ice-cold glass of buttermilk and cornbread, just to prove you’re a man. 

Bellwether Brothers Theatre Works presents Rodeo Town by Graham Bowlin and directed by Cameron Strittmatter at the East Theatre of The Complex as part of the Hollywood Fringe. Rodeo Town, in its meretricious splendor, attracts men in the way that a spider web attracts flies, all a terrible realization when one is caught and struggling for life. Still, this makes for a wonderful night of theatre.

They call it a town but there’s hardly anyone there. Most everyone has left and there’s a reason for that.
Lonnie (Harry Beer) strums a pretty good guitar in Rodeo Town. Singing a song “Everybody Saw My Crime”.  Life has not treated him well.  He lives his life mostly out of a bottle - 24/7/365 - and wears his hair long like he’s an aging rock star.

Kelly (Dustin Bayers) is a simpleton, with coveralls, and a baseball cap.  And, besides the effeminate tennis shoes, he’s country through and through and has got a nasal drawl that would put a Tennessean to shame. But Kelly doesn’t like “Everybody Saw My Crime” and wants Lonnie to sing something else.  

Kelly is Lonnie’s only friend, but they’re not really friends, just partners who work together in Rodeo Town, if you can call it a town.  They have no position in life and are bossed around by Garth (Eric Cire) who seems to own the town in the way that he puts them to work building fences.

“Garth ain’t the boss of me.” - Lonnie

But neither one can hammer a nail into a block of wood much less build a fence to hold cattle. And so they talk about Rodeo Town, the steaks Garth is bringing for the party, and the loose women who are coming to join them in a couple of days. 

Lonnie and Kelly’s eyes convey a secret yet something is holding them back from discussing their shared knowledge. And so they lie there on the ground waiting for Garth to get back.

“What are you little faggots doing rolling down in the dirt?” – Garth

Yes, Garth is back, and he doesn’t like what he sees.  No fence, just two men lying around in the dirt.  And as far as I know, there are no cattle coming over the horizon just one more man.

Garth bosses them around but Lonnie is not easily manipulated.  Both are testing each other’s manhood and they scream back and forth. There is a disorderly formality to their way of life and to diffuse the tension Garth takes Kelly into his arms, extremely close, as though he were an amatory object of desire, and tells them the women will be coming.

Later, from a distant perspective, Richard (Dustin Gooch) appears to think Rodeo Town is the ideal place to get help.  But he does not look local – he wears a pink shirt and kakis slacks and speaks meekly to his wife Bethany (not seen).  He tells her that he is having trouble with his new Range Rover and he’s walking into town to get it fixed.  He’s on a cross-country trip on his way to a San Diego seminar for the trip of a lifetime.  Bethany thinks differently.

“Do not turn this into a trust issue.” - Richard

Unbeknownst to Richard, Garth listens in on his conversation, takes out his long pocketknife, and whittles on a stick.  Richard meekly finishes with his overbearing wife and looks up to see Garth and asks for help. 

But Garth says nothing and only smiles. It’s getting hotter and Garth takes off his shirt and whittles away paying little attention to Richard’s predicament.  And as much information as Richard spills, Garth says nothing, until Richard is ready to move on and then Garth speaks.

Dustin Gooch 

Garth says he’s got someone who can fix his car but it can’t be done today.  Richard does not like the vibes he’s getting from Garth or Rodeo Town and says he’ll call the Auto Club. Garth suddenly takes in interest Richard’s iphone to view the apps and, when Richard gives it to him, Garth smashes it into hundred pieces and then steps on it with the heel of his boot to make sure it’s dead.

“Butterfingers.” - Garth

Richard is now in shock but Garth diffuses his shock by promising to get him a pair of ostrich boots to replace his phone, get his car fixed, and invites him to stick around for the women coming into town.  Richard hesitates but agrees and they both go out and get something to drink possibly under a warm rock in this Texas desert.

Where are all the people?  It is a question asked repeatedly that no one wants to answer.  There is a strange fascination about the Graham Bowlin play, Rodeo Town.  And I kept thinking to myself:  Is this one-act play as good as I think it is?  Is this world premiere drama about the best suspense drama I have ever seen, ever?  In truth, it is exceptional, a fascinating edge-on-your-seat play with characters so real and dialogue so genuine, it deserves another hard look.  

L - R, Eric Cire, Dustin Bayers, Harry Beer, and Dustin Gooch

Harry Beer does a marvelous job as Lonnie.  As the character he does not show any solicitude for anyone.  He seems to be looking out for number one.  He knows his fate but stays away from the inevitable. He tries his best to get the intruder to go away because he knows the fate of all that stay in Rodeo Town. Lonnie is rugged, has a tattoo, and wears nice tan boots giving a manly appearance of someone who would like to stick around a lot longer. Sadly, his lot in life is the torture that he must face in Rodeo Town. Beer is a terrific actor, has a nice voice, and strums a guitar agreeably.

Dustin Bayers plays Kelly and does a wonderful job. There are touching moments at a gravesite where he provides pieces of information about what happened on a particular night and what might happen again. Kelly does not have all his wits.  He stays out of trouble by doing what needs to be done.  Maybe it’s not enough and he finds himself in a terrible predicament during the course of the play.  

Eric Cire plays Garth.  (Eric/Cire sounds like a stage name or parents with a sense of humor.)  Cire does a marvelous job with Garth. As the character he is not rushed to get folks to line up to fit his desires he just goes on methodically making it happen.   One minute he’s a monster, the next minute a monster with a heart of gold.  He is so unpredictable in his predictability.  We get a glimpse of his character throughout the play and figure out this is not a person we would want to mess with. Underneath it all, Garth has a ferocious knack - to size what he wants - and then goes after it. He takes pleasure in his evil wants.

Dustin Gooch performs splendidly as Richard.  The character is out for an adventure traveling across country.  His car, being brand new, should not have any problems but there he is stuck in the middle of nowhere and it is possibly an event of his own doing. His entertained delusions of finding rodeos in Rodeo Town does not pan out. He does not present a manly profile when he enters, he is easily manipulated, and he is doomed from the start.  Tries as he might, he has a weak constitution gingerly pulling gnats out of his water, and sitting on a seat far below the table to where his chin touches the table, making him appear to be a very small child.   He looks for an adventure to test his masculinity but meekly cowers under the presence of a very sharp knife. Still, the character has to find the way out, and keep searching for it, until it is too late. Gooch is terrific. 

Cameron Strittmatter, the director, keeps the suspense working marvelously.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen a production with as much suspense as in this ninety-minute play and I think that is a testament to the writing and the direction. Strittmatter has an incredible knowledge of the craft and guides his actors with extraordinary precision. The actions are filled with suspense and the actors present stunning visuals on stage, men in various positions and predicaments.  The men are constantly testing each other -  each, in their own masculine ways, finding their way through life. Little do they know, their lives are going the way of the prairie dog.  

Sometimes things get a little out of control, the shattering iphone, the hammering fence post, the barbeque grill, the cornbread, and the blood.  One sits in the seat dodging things that break the fourth wall.  

Jeff Szymkoski is the Stage Manager and Caleb Ault is the Director’s Assistant.

The Artwork and Set Design is by Joel Caswell.  The set works perfectly in this small venue and gives us an attractive glimpse of what draws a man into this place. 

Run! Run! Run!  And bring a mechanic.

WHEN: June 7- June 29, 2013. Fri. & Sat. at Seven P.M.
RESERRVATIONS: (323) 455-4585.

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