Star Crossed/Cowboy Mouth – Backspace Theatre

Star Crossed and Cowboy Mouth are two one-act plays playing at the Backspace theatre. Though the two plays have different settings, casts & directors, both explore universal human issues, problems and emotions, and both are very effective.

 Star Crossed, written by Mark Rees and directed by Ben Paine, is the story of two teenage girls from either side of the religious divide in 1980 Belfast, who meet at a community project to read a play: Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Elizabeth (Lauren Pegus) is a protestant with a difficult father, and Bernadette (Anya Row) is a Catholic who has been confined to a wheelchair by a stray bullet in the base of her spine. At first the two hate each other, but gradually a friendship grows between them – though never an easy one. They discuss love, families, and other issues that show they’re really not all that different. It is the society in which they live that makes them hate each other.

 This was perhaps the better of the two plays, and the strength is in the writing (though both are well written). The acting from both was excellent – it had to be, as there was very little else to look at, with the minimalist set & lighting focusing our attention on the characters and their stories, stories which were made real and believable by the performances. The Irish accents were almost perfect, there were one or two tiny slip-ups but nothing objectionable, and the lines were generally clear and understandable. The play won Best Director at the Deloraine Festival of One Act Plays, and several runner up awards at OneFest 2009, all well deserved in my opinion.

 The second play of the evening, Sam Sheppard’s Cowboy Mouth, directed by Victor Kalka, is a story about life, death, rock & roll dreams, performing, and life on the road. Written in 1971 by Sheppard and his lover Patti Smith in two nights by shoving a typewriter back and forth between them, the result is a fascinating reflection on the rock & roll lifestyle – and not always a kind one. Though perhaps not quite as engaging as Star Crossed, it was very interesting on many different levels. The word “existentialist” comes to mind, though this is perhaps not in the same vein as Beckett or Stoppard, it is still a good play and was performed very well.

 The setting, this time somewhat less minimalist, was a cheap hotel room, inhabited as only rock musicians can: by making a complete & total mess – clothes everywhere, empty bottles, instruments lying around, and pictures of rock icons adorning the walls. The performances were excellent, there is a real chemistry there between Natalie Venettacci & Campbell McKenzie, the two leads. They captured the unchained, free yet tortured spirits of rock & roll musicians, trying to make it big (but failing). There is love between them, but also antagonism, which frequently flares up. The third character – played by director Victor Kalka, is the Lobster Man. At first, the lobster man seemed at odds with the rest of the play, providing a (very welcome) distraction from the heaviness of the subject matter, with the whole audience howling with laughter upon his entrance. It is only later that this seemingly frivolous character reveals a more serious side. This play won Best Production, Director and Female Performance at OneFest 2009.

 If you see this production (and you should) PLEASE do not get there late – the noise of late people entering overpowered some of the quieter lines and was very distracting. The air conditioning switching on and off was also an annoyance during the first half of Star Crossed, though it did not affect the performances, all of which were very strong. This is by no means light entertainment, dealing with serious and universal issues, but these issues are handled well by both cast & directors, and this show is well worth seeing. Star Crossed/Cowboy Mouth is running from August 18th to August 21st at the Backspace Theatre.

-Tim B

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