We took a fortune cookie from the "Lobster Man" which contained instructions to the entrance of the theatre. If you are still expecting a typical theatergoing experience after reading or experiencing this first step toward One Old Crow Production's offering of Cowboy Mouth, then I'm not sure what to tell you. In a site-specific production of this work, co-written by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, there is an ambitious attempt at bringing this complex piece to its fullest realization.
The theme is similar to many a Sam Shepard play: let's look at the beauty to be found in some very damaged souls just trying to figure out their lives. Cavale (played by Diana Beshara) and Slim (played by Geoffrey Pomeroy) are two people stuck in a violently passionate affair that has made their one-room apartment their world. As the story unfolds we see everything from their playful games to their musical expressions to their violent pleas. The hands and personas of Smith and Shepard are present throughout the piece.
Yet I say attempt because it does not entirely succeed, though neither does it fail. As I've already mentioned, this is a very complicated show for a number of reasons. The first of which is the fact that it is co-written by two very strong voices. In the play itself, I tended to associate Smith's voice with Cavale, and Shepard's voice with Slim. However, that is not a clear division, evidenced by, for example, Cavale's "Shepard-style" monologue in the middle of the play.
This blend of styles is gripping when both Beshara and Pomeroy drop into the lyrical language and let it move them. Yet there are also moments when the language seems forced, when the actors are trying too hard to be poetic instead of simply allowing themselves to be. This is aurally obvious in Beshara's ever-changing speaking voice. There are times when she mimics Patti Smith, not in a direct impression, but rather in an "in-spirit" interpretation. This is when the words seem to flow organically from an artist. Yet she also drops out of that voice, which creates a sort of disconnect.
Of course, the most unusual character in Cowboy Mouth does not speak at all. Lobster Man, whom you might remember from my encounter on the street several paragraphs ago, is an embodied symbol that enters the sacred space of Cavale and Slim's apartment. Mathew Mark Stannah's performance is uncomfortably powerful, and his physical work is very strong.
He also performs one of several moments of an "out of control" nature, which is always a tricky thing to accomplish on stage. If the moment is too real, the audience member is taken out of the performance and is instead concerned with his or her personal safety or the safety of the performers. Though I never felt personally endangered, there were a few moments when I worried about the safety of the performers, because the loss of control was very real.
In this particular case, this is a calculated aspect of the performance, and the discomfort reminded me of the connections this piece has to the performance art and live music worlds. There is even live music performed, which is (again) alright but in no way virtuosic. The fact that Patti Smith's name is attached to this play gives any actor/musician a lot to live up to in terms of musical performance.
All in all, I applaud the potential in this production. All of the ambition and effort put into this piece simply show us how much is needed to produce a show like Cowboy Mouth that demands so much of both performers and audience. If you're craving something that is part theatre, part performance art, and part concert, listen to word of mouth and head over to Cowboy Mouth.
Follow Bess Rowen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbessr