Cowboy Mouth, in a meagre 45 minutes, attempts to deal with hefty concepts innate to the human experience. Focused on the co-dependent relationship between Slim and Cavale, the play explores issues of love, mental illness, rock and roll, hope, and the distinction between the abstract and reality. Its intense take on an unpredictable relationship felt like being thrown into the deep end and barely given the chance to come up for air.
Cavale, a mentally unstable woman in search for a rock and roll saviour, captures Slim, ‘a saint with a cowboy mouth’, and holds him at gunpoint in a decrepit hotel room. Although at times Cavale exerts her threat over Slim to make him stay, mostly Slim finds pleasure in being her saviour as he is desperate to make something of his otherwise empty life. Their toxic relationship has moments of clear, passionate love, and conversely at other times is filled with bitterness and tension.
Diana Popovska as Cavale and Nicholas Denton as Slim, under the direction of Arky Michael, have a great chemistry and energy together. Within their relationship they effectively demonstrate obsessive love and adoration; they also portray the opposite extreme of reluctance and resentment. Their yearning for each other, and their united hope for something more than their current lot; a directionless life with no meaning, is clearly felt through their profound and intense desperation.
The characters bounce from one idea to the next, in a fast paced, heavily loaded, script (by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith). They seem to talk about nothing of importance for extended periods of time. The spitting dialogue between the two often progresses quickly from stories of dead poets, to their relationship, to pondering the nature of truth. Contrastingly, their longer monologues, which delve into the emotional and psychological depths of the characters, don’t advance the plot and often feel lengthy due to their lack of emotional variation.
Despite their truthful and raw portrayal of their tumultuous relationship, the characters seemed one dimensional in their more independent moments. Popovska had the challenging task of portraying the complexities of Cavale, a mentally ill, dynamic woman, angry at the world for the bullying she endured as a child and the poor treatment she received as a former mental patient, and searching desperately for a saviour to lift her from her despair. At times, Popovska nearly encapsulated all these qualities, yet too often she embodied the character’s anger and insanity too fiercely, so we were unable to sympathise with the softer, more vulnerable, aspects of Cavale’s character. Denton’s character was easier to connect with as he more clearly varied his emotions, however he was so driven by pain that whilst his desperation was palpable, he isolated himself from the audience through his intense anger. The actors didn’t manage to provide the light and shade necessary for the audience to feel some moments of relief and calm amidst the confronting script.
The characters ebb to and fro between clear comprehension of their stark reality, and their longing for salvation and the fulfilment of their dreams which leads them to bounce on the edge of reality and the abstract, challenging the audience to come with them to this place of uncertainty. This blurred view of reality often felt confusing and confronting, particularly through the Lobster Man (Jonny Hawkins) – an embodiment of this surrealism.
Hibernian House was a perfect venue for this piece. The rundown, intimate space transported the audience to the dilapidated hotel room Slim and Cavale are entrapped in. Particularly fitting was the outside noises of traffic from the city, providing an authentic soundtrack to the impassioned dialogue. Michael’s direction of the staging was well done within this space to keep the audience engaged through using various parts of the room and through the appropriately simple and effective lighting. The few musical pieces were fitting in their rock and roll style, and imbued the piece with a warmer atmosphere.
Cowboy Mouth is a confronting and bewildering piece. The dynamic, volatile relationship was well portrayed. However, the harsh intensity of this piece was overpowering, and there weren’t enough insights into the characters’ softer qualities, making it difficult to care about their pain.