Dark sensuality and rock n’ roll light up Sterling Studio Theatre for Cowboy Mouth in Toronto
I’ve grown so attached to the Sterling Studio Theatre that I often feel a pang of jealousy whenever someone else is assigned to cover a show. As is right and proper (ahem), I was able to see the opening of Rhízōma Productions’ Cowboy Mouth. With a beer in my hand, snuggled up against the exposed brick of the venue, I enjoyed my fifth show at this intimate space.
As an introduction to the play, and in support of local indie musicians, the evening begins with an opening act—a new one featured for each performance. Last night, I was treated to an acoustic guitar set by JJ Thompson. It was an enjoyable mix of covers and original work, and a thematically perfect prelude to Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s raunchy one-act about two dysfunctional rock n’ rollers—Slim and Cavale.
Holed up in a tiny apartment, these two are a hot mess. The atmosphere is hyper sexual, and the tone swings wildly as they torture and comfort each other. They shriek. They caress. They sing, stomp and strangle each other.
Director Sophie Ann Rooney has crafted a messy and awkward environment that is both familiar and viscerally thrilling.
The set is a cramped and squalid little piece of domestic mayhem. The bed is unmade. The floor is littered with clothing, food, and musical instruments. The walls are plastered in album covers. As Slim and Cavale fumble around this cluttered space, props go flying every which way.
There’s a dead crow named Raymond. There’s a gun. There’s a Lobster Man who brings them food and can only grunt. It’s poignant madness and a fanciful study of opposites. Slim and Cavale are playful; they create absurd yet sweet dream scenarios, but then, suddenly, are at each other’s throats with curses and threats.
The chemistry between Oliver Pigott and Danka Scepanovic is intense. They’re so charismatic, feisty and into each other that the rapid and extreme mood swings are exciting rather than jarring. They find the music in Slim and Cavale’s text, and their brutal stumbling becomes a kind of dance that is both rough and elegant.
Cavale may have survived electric shock therapy. Slim may have a wife and kid waiting for him somewhere. At first, I found myself questioning the accuracy of their revelations. But the delivery, regardless of content, is so sincere that I began to accept these truths as the characters experience them.
I was particularly intrigued by Cavale’s impassioned explanation of what makes a “rock star”. She paints a picture of humanity searching for idols. We desperately need saviours to show us, through awesome spectacle, the glory we yearn for. During her inspired rant, she lays down one of the most perceptive descriptions of an idol I’ve ever heard: somebody to get off on when you can’t get off on yourself.
Slim may be Cavale’s saviour, and she: his. Perhaps the Lobster Man is their saviour. It sounds loony, and it is! But these F’d-up weirdos and their trippy world resonate with me.
They tell their stories in street talk, but it oozes poetry and wisdom. In their tales about building dams, befriending dead crows, and being ugly so beauty can shine forth: there is insight into the futility of human endeavor, the comfort of companionship, and the massive drama where we each play the parts required for the grand story to play out.
I loved every second of this wild ride. As I type this, I’m still haunted by Slim and Cavale and what they represent to me: the lovers, the poets, and the lunatics.
- Cowboy Mouth plays at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Rd.) until March 29.
- Shows run Monday through Saturday at 8PM, with an additional Saturday Matinee at 2PM
- Ticket prices: $20 for Adults, $15 for Artist and Students
- Tickets can be purchased at the door or online
Image of Oliver Pigott and Danka Scepanovic provided by the company