Saturday, August 18, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Riding the Bull"

Photo/Jonathan Slaff

In America, everybody's lonely. August Schulenburg's honest satire, Riding the Bull, takes two Southern-grown heroes--an awkward rodeo clown and the rightly named "Fat" Lyza--and looks to connect to, rather than demean, the world around us. In rapid succession, Schulenburg gives us glimpses of loneliness being tackled by focused intensity (on, say, milking a cow), constant sex (otherwise known as "temptation"), money (the American solution), faith, and finally, love itself. That this is all done without bucking us from the saddle is due largely to the likability of the cast and Kelly O'Donnell's intelligent direction.

As GL ("Gaylord"), Will Ditterline uses panicked aggression to hide his constant fear, and as Lyza Mary, Liz Dailey manages to convey both the hard steel of a woman forced to endure constant ridicule and the marshmallow heart beneath all that blubbery padding. Pairing the two is visually comedic: GL is all half-tucked, tight, receding, and a little sallow from his makeup, and Lyza is frumpy, loose, full-bodied, and natural. But Schulenburg doesn't play it for laughs: the script is filled with tenderness, most notably for GL's unseen mother (symbolically represented by a flimsy dress) and the Elvis impersonator (or is he?) they buy in order to satisfy her obsession. Of course, Riding the Bull has its share of cheap laughs ("What do you call them? Elvises? Elvii?"), not to mention Lyza's post-coital visions of the future (O'Donnell stages it so that the money they make gambling comes pouring out of their every orifice: the American Dream). But for every Baby Jesus that's shoved up a cow's butt, every magi made to fellate a mule, there's a serious message about faith and forgiveness, too.

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