Good Job Horses
The play opens with the three survivors of the ambushJessie, Quinn and Averybursting into the Belmont Hotel, tumbling and rolling atop one another and scattering loose dollar bills all around. Two other members of the gang were killed in the ambush. The three woman (and how interesting that all three have names that could be men's names as well) are greeted by the peculiar, effete manager, Ray (another gender neutral name, though Ray is male) and being they are the only guests, book the entire hotel to be well hidden until the big showdown with their opposing gang. Ray announces that the Belmont is having its first annual feminist retreat, with a range of activities intended for the guests to get in touch with their feminine strength and inner wisdom, replete with new-age trappings. These activities are quite novel to our hard-scrabble heroines, with great sport made of this Calamity Jane meets Aveda Institute set-up.
At intervals we see the opposing gang in pursuit of our three heroines ... created by turning around plywood cut-out saguaro cacti on the side of the stage to reveal a drawn-on mustache on the straight central branch of each saguaro which, when a black cowboy hat is placed atop, becomes a great cartoon image of a western villain in the Black Bart mold. Kudos to director Jon Ferguson's set and prop design. Each of our heroines scoops up a cacti-cum-villain, holds it up as a mask, then rides hobby-horse style around the stage hollering about her progress in tracking down the low-down varmints (Jessie, Quinn, and Avery) they aim to blast sky high.
The women bicker and make-up, tell brave truths, and retreat into fantasies. They spend three nights at the Belmont, and each night one of them arises and seeks Ray's company, partly with the notion of seducing him, though it is pretty clear that Ray is gay. In any event, Ray remains asleep during these evening visits. Ray joins them in several of the retreat activities, including his nude (though strategically concealed) entry into the sauna. Ray seems eager to help the bandits get more from their stay at the Belmont than just a place to await their doom. The hotel itself becomes a presence and the three women hear its voice, guiding them to consider options they may or may not have, and which may or may not enable them to survive the shoot-out.
If all of this sounds loopy, far-fetched, and muddled, it is. But Good Job Horses is also really funny and fun, packed with humor, both physical and verbal humor, and actually does provide three interesting central characters, each a woman whose emotional arc and life prospects have been blocked at the pass, as they say in the westerns.
Carly Wicks is Jessie, the self-proclaimed leader, who makes the most determined effort to bring Ray over to the other side of the fence with overt sexual gestures and entreaties. Her confidence and earthiness seem just right for this leader-by-default. Kate Tarker is Quinn, who proclaims herself "the smart one," and she is, to the degree that she is most reflective about the course of her life, and regret for what has been lost. She mentions her horse Coco several timesthe "dream horse who was also a real horse," as if once it was possible for dreams to come true, but no more. Charlotte Calvert is Avery, played as a dumb blonde, but with steely resolve to hold on tight and face the challenges falling upon her.
As Ray, Ryan Patrick projects a nervous energy that is half eagerness to serve, half aiming to hoodwink his guests. He is led by a mysterious agenda and appears himself not to understand the why or wherefore of the hotel's master plan.
Tim Cameron has designed the sound and composed a score that provides an aptly atmospheric western guitar background, punctuated by galloping hoof beats and fierce gun fire. Tony Stoeri's lighting design signifies changes in tone from ribaldry to frenzy to introspection.
Good Job Horses is eighty minutes worth of a lot of fun. A good part of the fun is in the whacky story, the witty script, the inventive staging, and the broad characterizations. There is also fun in seeing this mash-up of western lore with the iconography of feminist renewal. The collision of these world brings out the ridiculous aspects of both with an eruption of delightful froth.
Good Job Horses continues through May 29, 2015, at The Southern Theater, 1420 S. Washington Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Produced by Theater Forever, performed in rotation with the work of other companies as part of Southern Theater's Art Share Program. Tickets: $24.00. For performance schedule and tickets visit theatreforever.com.
Created by writer Kate Tarker and the Theatre Forever ensemble; Director, Set and Props Design: Jon Ferguson; Assistant Director: Lauren Anderson; Lighting Design: Tony Stoeri; Sound and Score Composer: Tim Cameron; Stage manager: Caleigh Gumbine; Production Assistants: Chloe Bell, Max Mainwood and Sphina Daggau; Sound Board Operator: Annie Shiferl
Cast: Charlotte Calvert (Avery), Ryan Patrick (Ray), Kate Tarker (Quinn), Carly Wicks (Jessie).