Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Cowboy Mouth

Photo credit: Adam Moco
The Coyote and the Crow
Revived Shepard/Smith play gives good mouth.
by Christian Baines

Cowboy Mouth, the collaboration between playwright Sam Shepard and rock legend Patti Smith is a story of delusions. Imaginary friends, imaginary power, and the biggest delusion of all, the American Dream. For Slim (Jason Collett), a pseudo-cowboy who ‘looks like a coyote,’ that dream means rock stardom, dangled before his eyes by Cavale (Jessica Huras), his damaged kidnapper turned lover – at least, when she’s not threatening his life or talking to her dead crow.

It beggars belief that Shepard and Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth mostly sober, and for many, the work may demand several viewings to fully understand. Some may find its randomness off-putting, and Slim and Cavale aren’t written to be likable characters to begin with. Their relationship is beyond repair, sustained only by fatalistic codependency based on ambitions that are long gone. Cavale chides Slim for living ‘yesterday’ whenever he brings up the home, wife and child from which she’s stolen him, only to lament her own childhood misery in the same conversation. 

Yet within all this, lurks a remarkably consistent and thought-provoking play. It’s sold in no small part by the cast, particularly Huras, who attacks the material with a genuine love that breaks any barriers of self-preservation. Collett is obviously more comfortable on a mic and guitar than he is playing Slim, but his sometimes artificial delivery seldom breaks the illusion of a character that is, himself, living under a pretense.

Cowboy Mouth is as messy as one could expect from a collaboration between two such volatile creative icons, but it’s never indulgent or dull, and if you can hold on through its excesses, adds up to an insightful and satisfying whole.

Cowboy Mouth plays at Cameron House, 408 Queen St W until February 13.
Read Joel Fishbane's interview with Esther Jun the show's director

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