The Wild West
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage is a manic, farcical take on the myth of the West, mixed with a large dollop of gothic horror. Best of all, it's a genuinely clever, funny and outrageous script. Bits and pieces of things you've seen before float to the surface -- scenes from Roseanne, echoes of old Westerns, rodeo lore, hints of Sweeney Todd -- but nothing ever goes where you think it will, and as a result, your fascinated attention never leaves the stage. The OpenStage Theatre is currently giving Flaming Guns a spirited, hilarious, balls-out (pun intended) production.
The action takes place in the kitchen of Big Eight, a onetime rodeo star whose property is about to be foreclosed on. She makes her living healing young cowboys of their hurts and injuries, exacting sexual services and a silver belt buckle from each of them in return. The current beneficiary of her attentions is Rob Bob (pronounced "Rub-bub" by the other characters). He's an earnest, befuddled young charmer with a touching and unshakeable belief in the code of the West. He's got it all figured. He's the white hat, any enemy he encounters is a black hat, and the girl he falls in love with (at first sight, naturally) has to be the local schoolmarm, even if she turns out to be in actuality a spike-haired, multi-pierced little spitfire dubbed Shedevil. Big Eight's sister, Shirl, works in a slaughterhouse and brings over dripping cuts of meat that foreshadow the bloody mayhem that fills the second act. Black Dog is a vicious Russian biker who's chasing down Shedevil, and there's also Shirl's hapless, ball-less beau, Sheriff Baxter Blue.
Some of the funniest moments in Flaming Guns arise not from the lines or the plot, but from those concatenations of elements -- visual, aural, sensory -- that exist only in live theater: the sight of Rob Bob's bare buttocks cozily framed by his gunbelt and jockstrap as he makes love to Shedevil. The moment when the multiply shot Black Dog swills beer and the liquid cascades out of the holes in his body. The characters swiping their palms on the seats of their jeans, arguing, flirting and munching chips on a stage awash in blood.
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage is credited to a Jane Martin, though apparently she has never appeared in public and -- despite the fact that one of her plays, Keely and Du, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize -- no one knows exactly who she is. OpenStage's program notes suggest that Jane Martin may be a pseudonym for director Jon Jory, who was long associated with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, or that Jory may be using the name for works he has written in collaboration with his wife, Marcia Dixey Jory.
Joy Vernon's direction keeps the frenetic action of Flaming Guns coherent. R. Todd Hoven provides the evening's most empathetic character as the hapless Rob Bob. With her strut and her confident drawl, Judith Allen holds the proceedings together as Big Eight. Larraine Tennison gives us a rather charming, supple, light-footed sister Shirl; she also has a knack for physical comedy. Samantha Rae Blazier supplies Shedevil with just the right amount of defiance, and she, too, is very physically expressive. But Shedevil has a habit of spewing out sudden exclamations, and I had trouble hearing exactly what they were or figuring out whether she was mimicking cartoon characters or suffering from Tourette's syndrome. Matthew Korda is imposing as Black Dog; he provides some stage-shaking falls and lots of silent humor as the other characters push, pull and manipulate his tall, apparently lifeless frame from place to place. Duane Sawyer is an energetic Baxter Blue. Geoffrey Kent deserves a lot of credit for the fight direction, which plays a large part in the evening's success. Every time I see Scott Curl, who has a small part near the end of the play, I think both that he's a very interesting presence and that he hasn't quite found himself yet as an actor.
All in all, a bloody good time.
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