Cowboy Mouth | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Cowboy Mouth 

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Cowboy Mouth, Striding Lion InterArts Workshop, at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church. For all its faults, this furious meditation on fame and self-made mythology--written over a pair of sleepless, rum-soaked nights at the infamous Chelsea Hotel--remains one of Sam Shepard's most complex and challenging works. He and performance punk Patti Smith took turns banging out the stream-of-consciousness script, and her raw poetry oozes from the play's blistered cracks throughout. The closest the playwright ever came to collaboration, it's also the only time Shepard put the intimate details of his own life on display: the tumultuous relationship between methodical cowboy Slim and groupie Cavale was ripped directly from his own adulterous affair with the celebrity-hungry Smith.

Maybe that's why this exercise in automatic writing is such a tough nut to crack: it's very much in the moment--a moment that transpired nearly three decades ago. But Striding Lion's interdisciplinary treatment gives warmth to the otherwise chilly proceedings, combining slides, video footage, and a preshow concert by the Imaginary Friends that includes great Dylan and Iggy Pop songs. Add smart performances by John Lee (who nails Shepard's slack drawl) and Susie Dietz (who transforms the spastic Cavale into a sympathetic figure), and director Amanda Kay Berg pulls off what seems an impossible task, creating an earnest, spirited production of a play that's insincere to its core.

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