/ Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017
Jane Martin’s outrageous comedy runs through Nov. 19 in the Stage II Pinkerton Theatre
In such plays as “Keely and Du,” “Anton in Show Business,” “Jack and Jill,” and “Talking With …” Jane Martin has used humor and wit to provoke audiences on issues ranging from abortion and sexual abuse to the humiliations of professional theater.
In her 2001 play “Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage,” now getting its area premiere in the Venice Theatre Stage II series, she goes for outrageous laughs rather than deep thought, using blood, guts and sex as triggers.
In odd ways that I struggled to fully comprehend from this energetic production staged by Kelly Wynn Woodland, Martin is poking fun at the key ingredients of classic Western movies and novels posing questions about what makes a hero or a villain — and whether someone can be both.
Does it really matter? Maybe you’re better off not thinking too much about what it all means. At Wednesday’s sold-out performance, I laughed a little, but felt mostly puzzled about why the characters do what they do.
The play is set in the kitchen of Hall-of-Fame rodeo star Big 8 (played by Cheryl Andrews), who now devotes her time to healing injured cowboys (and getting a little on the side if possible) at her struggling rehab ranch. Big 8 is in debt and not sure where she’ll get the money to pay her mortgage, but she’s enjoying her time working on her latest rehab patient (and cuddle buddy) Rob Bob, the none-too-bright rodeo competitor played by Jimmy Dudding.
Rob Bob is a fan of Westerns and is looking for his chance to play the hero. He doesn’t realize how quickly he’ll get his opportunity. As they talk late into the early morning hours, there’s a knock on the door. A woman who looks like a better-dressed refugee from “The Walking Dead,” with wild pink hair, torn stockings and a chain running from her cheek to nose, shows up looking for Big 8′s son, Lucifer.
She’s known as Shedevil and the name suits the character played by Vera Samuels (who is alternating in the role with Alison Prouty). She’s a jumble of emotions, but mostly mean, angry and frightened, and prone to Tourette Syndrome-like verbal outbursts.
Shedevil is apparently pregnant and looking for her husband, who disappeared and stole her $17,000. She’s also being chased by an angry Ukranian known as Black Dog, who also shows up. It’s difficult to know what, if anything she says, is the truth.
The characters also include Big 8′s sister, Shirl, played with great spirit and a good sense of humor by Candace Artim. Shirl works in a slaughterhouse, which comes in handy late in the play. She gets to do some disgusting things and be flirtatious at the same time with her boyfriend, Baxter (Jeff Cima), a sheriff’s deputy.
Blood is spilled all over the floor, countertops and clothes. There are romantic and suggestive couplings, all to establish how wild these characters are.
But what does it all add up to? I’m not really sure. Rob Bob is certainly interested in being a hero and sees Shedevil as his chance to save a damsel in distress. The group tries to turn Baxter into a villain of sorts, but everything ends on something of an up note.
Woodland’s direction brings drive to the storytelling, while Andrews, Dudding, Samuels and particularly Artim make the most of their roles. Jeff Cima, in a less developed role as Baxter, is effective enough to believe (amidst the bedlam) that he’s a law enforcement officer.
It’s staged on a set by Gabriela Gorka that covers the basics of the kitchen setting, and Francine Smetts’ costumes suit the earthy characters.
“Flaming Guns” is a play that may tickle you in unexpected and slightly gross ways or leave you puzzled about what the playwright and theater were thinking. Or possibly both.