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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Cowboy Mouth

Aaron Turner in Cowboy Mouth 
(photo: Jeremy Bobrow)
Confusion Says
Girl Got Lost Productions do, indeed, get lost
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
My first impulse when I returned, tonight, from Cowboy Mouth was to Google the fuck out of it. The play, by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, was unknown to me, the director and her cast had deviated, they admitted, from the original, and I just wanted to know how much. But then I thought: no. This production must stand on its own legs, be understood by its own rules. 
I was apprehensive when I went in. The PR photos for the show have the cast in clown-face and I am getting incredibly tired of clown being used as a theatrical metaphor for everything. The director, Chelsea McIsaac, indicated, in her program note, that this was a choice she had made. Also, she had decided that the mute character, Lobster Man (played by Aaron Turner), was now going to be the central figure of the piece. 


The characters are undoubtedly, in the first half, grotesques with a vocabulary made up mostly of variants of "fuck."

When I went into the theatre I was comforted somewhat. Turner, not the ugliest actor in the city, was splayed across an unmade bed and was not in clown-face. Then the play began and Turner haunted the stage, walking in and out of the central action - a dialogue between Slim (Owen Clark) and Cavale (Kathy Daehler). They were in clown-face. The rest of the evening, up to the ultimate moment, then became a series of half-measures. Slim and Cavale only clowned occasionally - the physical bubbling under the surface but suggesting, finally, that the garish makeup was just a mere device. But what was the device supposed to suggest? The characters are undoubtedly, in the first half, grotesques with a vocabulary made up mostly of variants of "fuck." We don't need the makeup to tell us they're human wreckage. Moreover Cavale has a damaged foot and Slim a damaged heart (having left his wife and children for this woman). But later we learn that they are not as dim-witted as they seemed. She has a huge heart and imagination and even words to express her thoughts. (The two writers have created an astoundingly musical work—more musical than most musicals.)

What the indifferent clowning mostly succeeded in doing, and this is clear from the text, is amputating the urgent, last-ditch eroticism between the pair. The entire evening is a give-and-take of sexual power. But with those faces and nearly no contact between the actors, I was growing more and more dismayed, suspecting that the director did not entirely understand the script before her. Finally, we are told, that Lobster Man may be called that because he is a monster (and not just because he delivers lobster). The couple is now bored with each other and use him as entertainment. 


Underneath it all, the ideas might have been quite sound: Lobster Man (as played by the handsome Turner) was the monster because he was not like the clowns; the old Twilight Zone switcheroo. The final moment then becomes inevitable. But if you are going to say that, the clowns have to be less Barnum-cute and the last moment - which I will not divulge - has to go all the way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am go to Google my arse off.

April 20-30 at Espace 4001, 4001 Berri (near Duluth). Reservations: 514-279-5219. Email
Running time: 50 minutes

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