New Amerikan’s Riding the Bull

Riding the Bull
Author: August Schulenburg
Date attended: 12 August 2011
Venue: Stone Soup Theatre, Upstage Venue (New Amerikan Theatre Company)
Director: Richard Buckley
I have not read the play

Why this play now?

The story goes that a skinny, male rodeo clown falls for an overweight, female rancher in a town called Godsburg (no, really). The rodeo clown, GL, is devoutly religious and abhors the overweight Lyza for her excess personage as well as her chronic disrespect of his religious sensibilities (literal and figurative). Over the course of the play we see the roles reverse entirely. Lyza becomes humble and pious, while GL backslides into damnation by desiring of earthly things (money, sex, cars, etc. – the American way). Though the plot is essentially a role reversal about how money and power corrupt pure souls (and could force others onto a path of righteousness), there was something interesting in the method of storytelling. (The full summary can be found here.)

They performed in the small blackbox space of Stone Soup Upstage, not to be confused with their larger Downstage space. There couldn’t have been more than 35 chairs set up for audience around the tiny playing space. The dialogue teeters between crass and poignant in highly believable, entertaining, and sometimes thought-provoking ways. The story also raised several questions, and answered few which is a quality I like, and feel lacking, in many stories and plays.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Excess in every meaning of the word
  • Corruptibility of humanity through money, power, and sex
  • “Get what you deserve”/deus ex machina to smite the wicked and uphold the righteous (as seen through the bull acting out as the hand of God and through the Lazarus cow)
  • Definition of love
  • What does it mean to destroy a person
  • Testing faith

What moments encapsulate the story?

The play is working with some very weighty issues, and even though it was occasionally over the top, there were several moments that stuck out to me.

  • GL’s realization that he could “buy a person”
  • Lyza admitting the first time that she watched GL as he clowned in the ring
  • Elvis, enacted by Lyza, saying he was going to stay
  • Lyza’s description of the bull tearing apart the rancher who killed her mother
  • GL’s repetition that he couldn’t sleep because his mother was singing
  • Jesus is made of plastic, not marble

Were there moments of disunity, or areas in which the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

On the whole, I enjoyed the balance between crass and poignant, however, there were moments where the words didn’t so much balance as topple over. The big example being one of the final moments in which GL describes having sex with Lyza one more time as she’s dying (or maybe already dead, but still warm) having just been bloodied up by a bull. Of course, this fit with the rest of the play perfectly, but after a very long description of the battle of bull, and the sad goodbye between the two of them, this just seemed excessive (Re above: the play is about excess).

However, I must say that the play was surprisingly unified and was well served by the incredibly intimate setting.

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