American Western by Neal Utterback, Players Theatre, Trinity College, Dublin, May 12th, 2013

How the west was won: Neal Utterback’s American Western

Originally featured on Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 13th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here. 

Written by: Neal Utterback
Directed by: Neal Utterback
Cast: Sara Deppenbrook (Mags/Mrs. Flynn), Luke A Gangi-Wellman (Kyle/Sassano), Jessi Haggerty-Denison (Sara/Two Spirits), Jamison Monella (Daniel Boone), Gary Shoemaker (John Cody Jones/Col. Flynn)
Set in rural, small-town Indiana, American Western takes a tragic-comic look at both identity and the fate of veterans after coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Taking center-stage throughout the production is protagonist and chorus Lt. Daniel Boone, an openly gay Lieutenant in the army who has arrived in Indiana for the burial of Sgt. Patrick Flynn, Boone’s former lover who was killed in the war and is subsequently outed at his funeral in Indiana by Lt. Boone. It is this outing of Flynn that is the source of dramatic action throughout the play. It sets off a chain of interactions between Boone and Flynn’s parents, Flynn’s best friend since childhood and many of the local townsfolk.

Hanging over the production are two elements that provide a welcome subtext to the play: ghosts and guilt, both of which imply that there are past histories-both in the middle east and in Indiana – that have not been dealt with by these characters. As one character in the play utters, “Everyone thinks that they’re doing the right thing, but that’s just not possible. Somebody’s doing the wrong thing.”

In a brilliant scene early in the play, Boone meets Kyle in a bar where they eulogize Sgt. Flynn over drinks; upstage right, the remaining cast members, assembled like a choir made up of ghosts, sing Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’. It’s a scene that emphasizes the notion that male bonding is not simply “of the moment”; that there are shared histories between these two characters that hangs, quite literally, over their shoulders. Though they have only recently met, they are brought together not just by the death of a friend and lover, but the nature of their respective relationships with Sgt. Flynn, both of which seem suspect at best. Like all good drama, this scene hints that there are plot twists on the way, though it doesn’t flag this too obviously.

The influences are clear throughout. Boone’s chorus recalls Ron Howard’s narration in Arrested Development: a quirky and irreverent commentary that underplays the more tragic elements of the play. As a whole, however, American Western feels as though it is pitched somewhere between Sam Mendes’s American Beauty and his subsequent film, Jarhead, both of which portrayed crisis in middle America and war in the middle east, respectively. Sometimes, however, the play’s influences are too obvious; the pregnant sheriff, for example, immediately recalls Frances McDormand’s Oscar-winning portrayal of pregnant local police chief Marge Gunderson, a police officer in Midwest America. That said, the play’s dénouement is rewarding and neatly ties up any scenes throughout the middle section of the play that may have felt unremarkable.

Quirky, weighty, funny and packing a punch, American Western may be several years too late to be considered a vital telling of the fate of returned Iraq war veterans, though it’s an interesting reminder of how guilt and identity are timeless themes in theatre.

American Western runs in The Players Theatre @ Trinity College until the 18th May at 9.30pm. Matinee: 18th May at 3pm. Tickest: €10 – €15. For more information go towww.gaytheatre.ie

For the full International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival programme click here.

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