Review: ‘Late: A Cowboy Song’ at CustomMade Theatre Company (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

Crick (Brian Martin) and Mary (Maria Leigh) do not see eye to eye when Crick spends the last of their savings on a painting in Sarah Ruhl's "Late: A Cowboy Song" at Custommade Theatre.  Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.
Crick (Brian Martin) and Mary (Maria Leigh) do not see eye to eye when Crick spends the last of their savings on a painting in Sarah Ruhl’s “Late: A Cowboy Song” at Custommade Theatre. Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Late: A Cowboy Song” plays at The Gough Street Playhouse through February 1st, 2015).

Crick and Mary should probably not be husband and wife. They have been together since the second grade, when Crick noticed they shared a birthday. This was enough for the needy Crick to latch on to Mary with infantile need and hang on for dear life into adulthood.  He is cute, charming, bright, unemployed and likely to remain so. He loves art and he loves Mary to the best of his ability.

Mary, kind, agreeable, and unassertive has gone along with Crick’s program from childhood to adulthood and, now, to parenthood. She is simply an unawakened passenger along for Crick’s ride. These two have grown in years from childhood to parenthood, but as far as becoming adults, well, they are running late.

It is pretty clear that this marriage is headed for disaster, and equally clear that neither partner is prepared to recognize this fact.

But there are some refreshing and hopeful complications. One is the lovely Red, a childhood friend of Mary’s with whom she has recently reconnected. If Mary is a case of arrested development, unwilling to become herself, Red is the opposite, a woman of profound inner strength and core identity who has found herself in the occupation of cowboy. She is a lover of horses and wildness, outdoors and freedom. She is unbounded by convention or gender. And she is, clearly, in love with Mary, but too respectful of individuality to declare herself. She waits, patiently, for Mary to mature. A second complication is Mary and Crick’s child — born intersexed, the child is neither boy nor girl, a further example of confused identity. Although the hospital physicians arbitrarily created female genitals, Mary, at least, understands that the baby’s full gender identity will only be realized later in life. Crick, typically of this man who chose his life partner in second grade and clings on desperately, insists that the matter is settled.

Cowboy, Red (Laren Preston) introduces Mary to a horse and a dream of freedom. (Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.)
Cowboy, Red (Laren Preston) introduces Mary to a horse and a dream of freedom. (Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.)

This is a gentle story, told with humor and insight, and effective mostly as a character study. It is clear from the first scene that the marriage is unsustainable, that Red loves Mary, and that Mary will learn to return that love. The play, then, unfolds along predictable lines and its charm is in the characterizations of these three interesting and, on the whole, lovable and well meaning individuals.

As the cowboy, Red, Laren Preston is full of kindness, grace and sexual charisma. Her gentle leading of Mary to self-discovery puts one in mind of breaking a horse, a task which one imagines Red accomplishes with kindness and psychology rather than any sort of brutality. As Mary, Maria Leigh is lovable in her confusion, trying to please herself, and Red, and Crick, while gradually finding her way to adulthood and the discovery of what she truly wants. Most outstanding is Brian Martin’s performance as Crick. As he senses the certainties of his life, his passions, his marriage to Mary, even his child’s sex unraveling, he becomes increasingly desperate. Martin is wonderful to watch, as he shifts about like an emotional acrobat, trying to keep his ground in a world devestated by earthquakes. He performs Crick as a bundle of infantile need with a veneer of charm developed as a survival tool. It is an exceptionally insightful characterization, beautifully realized, and represents an artistic breakthrough for this interesting young actor who seems to be moving forward by leaps and bounds.

“Late: A Cowboy Song” is a quirky, and highly enjoyable night of theatre.

For further information, click here.

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“Late: A Cowboy Song” by  Sarah Ruhl. Produced by CustomMade Theatre Company. Director: Ariel Craft. Scenic Design: Eric LaDue. Costume Design: Brooke Jennings. Sound Design and Score: Liz Ryder. Lighting Design: Colin Johnson. Technical Director: Stewart Lyle.

Mary: Maria Leigh. Crick: Brian Martin. Red: Laren Preston.

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