March 26, 2003

 

Flaming Guns
of the Purple Sage

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more about Actors Theatre of Charlotte, please visit actorstheatrecharlotte.org.

Beginning with the breakfast scene where former Rodeo Queen Big 8 serves bacon, eggs, and Bud Light, Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage, proves a solid anecdote for gloom and doom. Through a loveable cast of twisted characters, playwright Jane Martin spoofs rodeo queens, bad guys, true love and grotesque crime.

Big 8, played with homespun verve by Pam Hunt-Spradley, has money troubles and a skill for healing young cowboys in return for a little loving. Rob Bob is her latest patient. Long and lanky, and a true believer in "the good guys always win" philosophy, Rob Bob is overcome by love at first sight when a female desperado named Shedevil appears at the doorstep on a dark and rainy night. Shedevil has hair the color of "throwed up strawberry milkshake," and is pierced more often than a colander. She is seeking refuge from her former boyfriend, a one-eyed Ukrainian Hells Angel. Sharing in the action is Big 8ís sister Shirl, who works as a butcher at the local slaughterhouse.

With a skill set like this, anything can happen, and it does. The story progresses from inanity to the side-splittingly macabre. As Shedevil, Johanna Jowett steals the audienceís eye with a nonstop series of twitches, tics and spasms. Her accent strays from southern to demented to Midwestern, perhaps intentionally. She is cunning and wretched, but to Rob Bob she is vulnerable, and therefore worthy of protection. Wearing a belt buckle the size of a coaster, and spouting his favorite line "Darn and Doodle," actor Nathaniel Gaw lends more corn than Kansas to his roll as a potential big-hearted hero. As big-chested Shirl, Polly Adkins supplements the comedy with a hearty dose of common sense and warped humor.

The second act is full of funny lines, but the introduction at the height of the crime of Baxter Blue (Craig Spradley) as Shirlís boyfriend could use some polishing. Farce requires a display of sincerity that isnít consistently maintained by all of the characters as the story became more complicated and ludicrous. Tighter pacing would improve the action, and increase the audienceís response to a repetitive device.

The play is full of small amusements and big laughs. Included in the soundtrack are country and bluegrass versions of Foreignerís "Feel Like Making Love," and AC/DCís "Back in Black." There is an aisle-rocking scene involving a jockstrap, a holster and a lot of loose Cheerios that Iíll remember for a long time. "Itís been real interesting for a Monday," notes Big 8 as she finishes mopping up the kitchen.

Lynn Trenning, March 26, 2003

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