Calgary Herald Review of Late, A Cowboy Song

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Get tickets here. Late, A Cowboy Song runs until March 22nd at Motel in the Epcor Centre.

Solid leads and genuine writing keeps Late, A Cowboy Song trotting along

Article by Stephen Hunt, Calgary Herald Arts & Entertainment. March 13, 2014. 

Playwrights are always on the clock, even if it’s just the clock inside their heads.

That’s because plays like Late, A Cowboy Song, which opened Wednesday at Motel, in lieu of the sorts of bells and whistles the movies employ to hold an audience’s attention, must keep up the motor, pick up the cues, keep the thing moving or else risk losing everyone’s attention.

Photo by Jason Ho
Photo by Jason Ho

Unless you’re Sarah Ruhl, that is.

She’s the talented playwright behind Late, A Cowboy Song, which tells the story of the marriage of Mary Smith (Carly McKee) and Crick Thorndigger (Kyall Rakoz), a young Pittsburgh couple who have been in love since the second grade, and Mary’s curious relationship with a cowboy (Genevieve Pare) named Red, who lives on horse time.

Mary is a dreamy individual, someone for whom the every day realities of contemporary life are agony, for one major reason: she’s always late.

Life keeps getting in Mary’s way, even as Crick proposes to her, and they give birth to a child who’s a little bit boy and a little bit girl, necessitating a little bit of surgery to set the child straight — only to have the couple agree to disagree on what name to call her (Crick calls her Jill; Mary calls her Blue).

Meanwhile, Crick is a boy-man with control issues, determined to shape Mary up so that they might live the sort of romantic fantasy marriage of his imagination.

It all unfolds in a series of scenelettes in the tiny Motel, that alternate between the couple’s apartment and Red’s real, or imagined, cowboy universe.

Ruhl has an unflinching willingness to keep it real, which also produces genuinely funny exchanges.

During one scene, Mary simply reads The Joy of Cooking, which she makes sound like a cockfight by reading the instructions to make clear soup.

During another scene, Mary and Red eat Chinese food while they try to figure out who was fighting who in the Vietnam and Korean conflicts.

“North and South,” says Red, laconically. “Always North and South.”

Late, A Cowboy Song unfolds so casually and deliberately and oddly, that you almost don’t notice that it’s got quite a bit of beautifully human writing in it.

Pare is wonderful as Red, even though I figured she was a figment of Mary’s imagination. Even if she was, Pare — who was sensational in a completely different way in 2013’s Polygraph — completely commits to Red’s cowboy’s eye view of life without ever turning the character into a cartoon — and she can really sing a cowboy song, too.

Rakoz and McKee also deliver solid performances as the alienated soulmates who are out of time with one another. McKee’s Mary is the linchpin of Late, a woman stuck between what the world wants her to be and how she wants to be, and McKee really does take Mary on a soul-searching journey, even if it does climax in a Chinese restaurant where all her fortune cookies end up blank.

As Late winds down, the energy flags a little, and Ruhl’s low-key writing style — think Sam Shephard meets Jane Anderson — begins to hit the wall a little, much in the same way that Mary starts disappearing from her family for seven-hour-long walks that never really lead anywhere.

But in a week that celebrates playwrights over at ATP (where they produced Ruhl’s The Clean House back in 2006), Third Street Theatre has served up a tasty sampling menu of the early work of one the U.S.’s top playwrights.

Third Street presents Late, A Cowboy Song

at Motel through March 22

Three and a half stars

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
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