LATE – A Cowboy Song by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Jonathan Fondell.
The timing of Monstrous Little Theatre Company’s debut is perfect. Sioux Falls is ready for a theatre company like this. MLTC chose a very fantastic play to introduce themselves to Sioux Falls. LATE – A Cowboy Song, written by Sarah Ruhl, tells the story of a young couple, Mary and Crick, whose small world is challenged by the birth of an intersex child. Mary begins to question her own views of love, commitment, and acceptance when an old acquaintance, Red comes back into her life. Red’s sexuality is only implied, which increases the tension in the story. Red and Mary develop a touching friendship which makes Crick uncomfortable. The play was billed as an edgy choice. While it may not have been a comfortable fit for other theatre companies, I got the sense downtown Sioux Falls audiences were open to the content. It could have been that the audience was full of friends and favorable to the new theatre company ‐ regardless, it was a soft touch, a gentle introduction, unapologetic yet polite, sweet hearted without being bawdy. If MLTC plans to challenge Sioux Falls audiences with the content of their plays, LATE was a very wise start.
MLTC stitched together scenes with well‐played and well‐sung original guitar compositions by Claire Avery, the actress who played Red. The set was efficient and established every necessary aspect of the story. Set pieces and props were just right to fit the space and meet production needs. Some props changed roles from one scene to another, which showed forethought and creativity. A clever prop choice was the use of a loveseat which deftly tripled as a corral fence, a horse, and part of a living room furniture set. MLTC knows how to block scenes and choreograph scene changes simply and professionally. The venue at Monk’s was a technical challenge which, at least after all of the work they put into it, appeared to be well within MLTC’s capabilities to produce a well‐crafted event.
Debbie Jones played Mary, the wife and mother in the storied family. Any local actress should envy Debbie’s talent. She is the best-in-town for nailing a facial expression and tone of voice. Claire Avery played Red, the female cowboy. Her acting performance and musical abilities were impressive. I believed everything she said, and I understood everything she didn’t say. Both women were natural and believable, bringing a remarkably wide range of emotion, physicality, tone, and stance to each scene. They are better actors than many people much older than they are. Matthew Stoffel played Crick, Mary’s husband. He was able to deliver Crick’s character as sincere and likeable, while showing his insecurity without being a jerk – that’s a big task. Debbie and Matthew are obviously naturally very articulate individuals, but I think they had the opportunity to enrich their characters if they hadn’t spoken like Debbie and Matthew. I interpreted their characters as having a lack of education – not stupid, not base – but more limited in their horizons both in worldviews and in relationships, which didn’t always come through in the performance. Overall, this cast should be very proud of their craft.
The venue was a side room in an active bar on a weekend. As you might imagine, the bar patrons were loud and distracting. While that did take the audience’s focus away from the production from time to time, the experience didn’t suffer too terribly for it. The seats were small and uncomfortably close to each other, so relaxing and viewing the stage was difficult. I would like to see more MLTC productions there; they overcame so many other logistical and technical obstacles in that room for their first show, and I’d like to see what further improvements they make to their brand and the audience experience in that space. If anyone can pull it off in the side room of a bar, it’s MLTC.