Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith

L - R Adam Navas and Joey Bothwell

By Joe Straw

The Hotel Chelsea in New York City was a fashionable place to create art.  If one was inspired enough to enter, one was inspired to manner art in any fashionable form.

Arthur Miller moved into #614 after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe. Bob Dylan wrote “Sara” in #211; Janis Joplin fellated Leonard Cohen in #424, an act immortalized in “Chelsea Hotel #2” (“you were talking so brave and so sweet/giving me head on the unmade bed”); Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen to death in #100. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Chelsea, William Burroughs wrote The Third Mind, and Jack Kerouac had a one-night stand with Gore Vidal.  By Nathaniel Rich in Vanity Fair October 8th 2013 – 12:00 AM

Somewhere I read that Sam Shepard and Patti Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth passing the typewriter back and forth until they created a play.  They wrote the play in the Hotel Chelsea during a significant fling. And, after mounting a production, Sam Shepard performed it once and walked away from the production and Patti Smith. Somewhere I read.

Girl Trip proudly presents Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith and directed by Harrison James at the Broadwater Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard through March 31, 2017.  (Four performances, a very short run.)

Upon entering and seating at The Broadwater Theatre, I noticed the circle A, the anarchist symbol that was noticeably and dramatically painted on the wall and perhaps in a few places. It is a symbol that brings attention to the ideal of the anarcho punk lifestyle that played out in a dramatic setting on this night. 

Cavale (Joey Bothwell) had her reasons for kidnaping Slim (Adam Navas). Maybe it was because he was young and handsome.  And, if he wasn’t willing, she had an ace in her pocket. It was just a little gun, with a long barrel, something that looked like a 45.  Oh, he put up a fight at first but no one even noticed him going into the room at the “notel motel” (my quotes) with all the crazies milling around.

Really, Slim wasn’t dragged into the room, he was intoxicated by her voice, heeding to every word, every little “if”, “and”, and “but” before he mentally floated into the room.  The words to him were something like following a pleasant whiff of an intoxicating perfume.  

But that’s about all Slim saw in Cavale.  Her manner just didn’t cut it with him, the look in her eyes, her way about the world just seem at least, peculiar, and at worst, dangerous.

This dirty room, had spray-painted walls, books on the floor, instruments in the corners and a cot that served as a bed.  If this was living then they both had hit rock bottom. (Set Design by Kenton Parker)

That Slim was there indicated the bitterest of contradictions. He had a wife and kid, he didn’t much care for, and now he was stuck in the room with, her.   

But Cavale thought he was the one, Slim, a rock and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth, who could perform and charm the pants off of any unrespectable woman ready to drop trou for any half way decent looking man.  And that’s just what Cavale wanted 'cause that’s what she thought. Her thinking made no sense unless one were to see it through her eyes, and then stare and squint a certain way.

No one needs to talk about her mental status, but Cavale was slightly misguided, and mentally unstable, to put it politely.  But,  she thought of herself as a beautiful crow trying to convince this coyote that he was the one.   She saw it in his audacious gestures, the way he beat the drums and strummed the guitar, (proving to himself not to be the master musician she thought he was), with only three chords under his belt.  

How does one connect when your opposite is making love to a crow, a stuffed one at that, kissing his beak and stroking his thinning feathers? How do you know she’s the one?

They were both in trouble—Cavale getting out of a mental institution and Slim having a wife and kid back in Brooklyn.  That ain’t the stuff dreams are made of. And neither was the Lobsterman (Marland Burke), just a dream away, a phone from infinity.

Harrison James, the director, does an exception job with this production.  In short, her version is pleasing to the senses and elevates this production with a brazen sincerity and barbarous amusement.  The play is ambiguous enough to be interpreted many different ways.

Just an observation with the play and this version with these actors:  What keeps them in the room together?  The gun?  No, that seems to be an afterthought whenever she needs it.  Slim only threatens to leave once.  He is not afraid of her.  They have a romantic physical relationship but we never see the deep connection—the “I can’t live without you” connection.

Why does Slim threaten to leave? One reason is because he is exasperated by her peculiarities.  He wants to be infatuated with her stories but when Cavale tells him, he seems only interested in the flesh.  Is there a way to absorb the tale and partake the flesh with equal abandon?

The physical life between the two lives is there, no need to change that, but we really need to find out why they are both there, that one moment that keeps them passionately together, in that room.  

Cavale really doesn’t throw herself down upon his feet.  She says he’s the one but maybe she needs to show an ecstasy that encompasses that action.  

Joey Bothwell is a stunning actor and also the choreographer of the dancers in this show.  She is physically fit and perfectly captures the physical life of Cavale. Bothwell is able to move with grace and present a quiet dignity.  Although a physical specimen she requires a little more work on the mental part of this woman.  Ay, there’s the rub, the mental characteristics of the character that are open to many ideas.  Cavale is the one mentally unstable, and that part of her character must keep her partner off balance. Her eyes, at the right time, must give away her complete lunacy. And that lunacy must keep Slim in that hotel room and her prisoner.  Also, Cavale is not far from living on the street, the only thing she’s got going for her is the money that supports her now which will probably not last long.  She needs a partner to save her from the life she is living. But her mental problems and exasperation runs deep when trying to get it her way.  That may be what we need to see.

Adam Navas presents a young strong figure as Slim.  Slim threatens to leave at one point, one really didn’t get the reason he stayed.  It wasn’t the gun that held him back, but it could have been.  Curiosity brings him back and that is her voice, and her story.  But, what is the strong action that makes him crawl back?  Slim plays the drums well, that’s a feather in his cap.  But after the few chords on the guitar, he loses confidence, or appears to, that he is not the man she wants.  He is not Jesus with the cowboy mouth. Navas presents a strong craft where little out of the ordinary phases him. (see Lobster Man) Curiosity is the key here. Navas does some really good work.  His craft is strong and his physical abilities are his strength.

Marland Burke must have had the time of his life presumably shaking the can of beer backstage as Lobster Man and then presenting it to Slim before leaving the room. The beer exploded in Slim’s hands foaming the contents onto the stage.  The actors took it all in stride before moving on.  Lobster Man, dressed in what appeared to be orange like prison garb, had claw-like hands and a mask over his face.  He did not speak; rather he had a muffling cry of some sort. Interesting.  Burke has a promising look and was fine in the role.

Joey Bothwell - Foreground, Background L - R Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, Marland Burke and Sarah Polednak

The three dancers Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, and Sarah Polednak provided some nice dance moves during the love making scene, each missing what was left of the beer on the floor.  Terrific work.  They also sat in the audience, in costume, and were very pleasant.  One note for the dancer: the dancers need to make a choice when they confront Slim. They either need to love Slim, or hate him.  Either way, that emotion must be conveyed to Cavale.

Sam Shepard & Patti Smith’s play is open to many interpretations and this was a good one, in this venue, and on this night.  The show had a short run of four dates March 23, 24, 30 and 31st and has now closed.

Partial proceeds from the production went to Write Girl, a creative writing and mentoring nonprofit promoting critical thinking and leadership skills amongst teenage girls globally.

The Executive Producers of this show were Joey Bothwell, Steve Harrison, Harrison James and Kenton Parker.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Mel Ciaravino – Associate Producer
Alex Pepel – Costume Designer
Alonzo Tavares – Stage Manager
Joe Morrissey – Lighting Design
Crash Richard – Music
Nicole Balin – Publicity
Ian O’Phelan, Shannon Burke - Graphic Designers

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