Riding the Bull

by J. Autumn Needles

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 3, 2011

Lyza Mary (Jen Anderson) and GL (Geb Brown) in "Riding the Bull"
Lyza Mary (Jen Anderson) and GL (Geb Brown) in "Riding the Bull"  (Source:Armen Stein)

The first thing you need to know when you go see New Amerikan Theatre's production of August Schulenberg's "Riding the Bull" is that the tiny little theater on Stone Way is a sauna. Dress for a sweltering summer heat and take a program when they offer it, because you'll need it to fan yourself.

Billing itself as a theater dedicated to "gritty epics presented on a meager budget," this little place is clearly a labor of love. Forty folding chairs line two sides of the stage, and we heard an ambulance scream by down the street behind us as we waited for the show to begin.

When you dress for the show, please consider both the heat and the close quarters. The biggest distraction the night I attended was someone's chosen fragrance wafting across the room on waves of heat.

But the second thing you need to know is that the show is worth all the distractions. Two chairs, two coat racks, and two laundry hampers are all we get to set the stage, leaving it to the artistry of the actors to take us to a diner, a cow field, Graceland -- all of which they do, and more. A love story of sorts, "Riding the Bull" is cleverly written, moving, and funny with plenty of delightful laugh aloud moments.

GL, an 'aw shucks'-ing, Jesus-loving, gentle-hearted rodeo clown, discovers that when he tempts with (read: has sex with) Lyza Mary, who dresses up her cow for fun, an unusual side effect takes place: Lyza Mary while in the throes of orgasm screams out the names of winning bull riders.

A love story of sorts, "Riding the Bull" is cleverly written, moving, and funny with plenty of delightful laugh out loud moments.

When they recognize this special gift (Is it from God or the devil?) they use it to win at gambling, which leads eventually to tragedy. First, though, it leads to lots more tempting, a naughty nativity scene, and Graceland where GL and Lyza Mary manage to find an Elvis impersonator who really thinks he's the King and take him back home to Texas to give a special gift to GL's mama.

Geb Brown as GL manages to maintain an air of perplexed and searching naiveté as he develops from a charmingly innocent man, who just wants to help his mama, into an obsessive bully, panicked at the thought of losing the source of his success.

Jen Anderson makes a raunchy, dirty-mouthed Lyza Mary who finds Jesus in the oddest places. Even when the story turns dark and difficult, it is shot through with the underlying innocence of the connection between GL and Lyza Mary. The two of them have a sweet heat together, and they range all over the emotional landscape, carrying the audience with them.

As my partner and fellow theatergoer put it, we've been to plenty of more professional productions that turned out to be real head-bobbers, creating in the audience more of an emotional engagement with the idea of home and bed than an engagement with the characters. Not so in this case -- even with the heat!

The audience, tiny as it was, followed every word with rapt attention. Brown and Anderson stumbled a few times over lines, but they maintained their commitment to the characters and to the emotional intensity of the story for the solid hour and forty-five minutes.

The cast, director Richard Buckley, and the imaginative and delightful script by Schulenberg deserve a bigger audience. Go see it! If you are worried about the heat, they have cold drinks for sale to help cool you off.

"Riding the Bull", a production of New Amerikan Theatre, continues through August 13 on Friday and Saturday nights at the Upstage Theatre (part of Stone Soup Theatre) at 4035 Stone Way North. For more information and tickets visit http://new-amerikantheatre.weebly.com/riding-the-bull.html

J. Autumn Needles lives in Seattle where she writes and teaches yoga and fitness.