Mary has known and loved her husband Crick since they were children. Their lives fall into a familiar routine built around work, arguments and her pregnancy, but everything changes when Mary has a chance meeting with a former classmate-turned-cowgirl, Red, in Lux et Umbra's Late, A Cowboy Song at Old Marquer Theatre.
Much of the first act shows how Mary (Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth) feels stifled by conventional domesticity. Initially unemployed, Crick (Philip Cramer) becomes irrationally angry at her for things such as being late for dinner. He bangs pots and later hopes kisses warrant forgiveness for his outbursts. Their relationship is strained by finances and Mary's growing ennui, and she finds an outlet in a budding relationship with the reserved yet alluring Red (Sam Moltmaker), who lives outside the city and rides horses on her farm.
The play is at its best when characters are in gray relationship areas. Mary is emotionally attracted to Red, a rational, silent woman full of confidence. Moltmaker deftly allows Red's stoicism to crack, letting desire peek through her flannel. The relationship between the women is complex, and it shows a spouse can't be a person's only source of emotional support. With Crick, Mary sees walls, but Red is an open field.
Hollingsworth brilliantly balances Mary's fragility. She is at once confident and on the verge of a breakdown, and Hollingsworth pushes her to the edge without going over it.
Sarah Ruhl explores relationships in Stage Kiss and In the Other Room (or The Vibrator Play), and Late, A Cowboy Song is one of her early works. Some of the dialogue is overwrought, and although characters deal with complex inner conflicts, dramatic tension is sometimes spelled out too obviously. A confusing and probably unnecessary subplot emerges when doctors advise that Crick and Mary's child, who is born a hermaphrodite, should undergo a gender-assignment surgery. This storyline could be interesting, but it is not adequately explored and the child becomes a talking point for the construction of gender roles. The characters pantomime interactions with their baby, which allows the play to focus on the relationships.
Directed by Jen Davis, the production is compelling despite some of the distractions. Brian Debs' set is a sparse apartment, which reflects the empty parts of Mary and Crick's relationship. Red sings cowboy songs that serve as engaging transitions throughout the show.
Cramer, whose character Crick becomes jealous of Red, is focused and turns in a solid performance. Crick can be annoying, critical and selfish, but through restraint and some warm moments, Cramer makes him somewhat sympathetic. He also is vulnerable, as Mary must choose between him and Red.
While a couple of storylines distract from the narrative, strong acting drives this production into rich and satisfying territory. — TYLER GILLESPIE