There’s a common adage among writers: Show, don't tell. The goal is to give the audience just enough description to draw the lines, and let them color it in.
First produced by the Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle in 1998, Cowboys Are My Weakness was adapted for stage by Myra Platt in the Book-It style. Book-It takes classic and contemporary pieces of literature and adapts them for the stage nearly word-for-word, comma-for-comma. The goal of Book-It is to reach audiences who've never seen live theater and to inspire the joy of reading. The company also created a unique style of performance rooted in storytelling that Tricklock found intriguing, according to the playbill, and the Albuquerque audience has reaped the rewards.
Cowboys Are My Weakness features four short stories from Houston's collection of the same title. The play opens atop a Wild West mountain with the musical talent of Don Bicknell, Aleah Waldron and Casey Mraz setting the tone with classic cowboy and country songs. Three women (Summer Olsson, Kerry Morrigan and Kate Schroeder) enter and describe their dream man: a cowboy riding off in his pickup truck. The three speak in unison on the details they agree upon, and alone on their personal wants—timed perfectly for dramatic effect.
The first story, "How to Talk to a Hunter," features Olsson in a love-torn relationship with a less-than-perfect hunter (Drew Pollock). This first episode really introduces the style of the play, with Olsson talking about herself in third person and verbalizing words found in written dialogue (he says, she says, etc.). Never is this jarring. It feels sincere being inside her head, even when other characters enter the story. Olsson and Pollock (a guest performer from UNM's Theatre Department) serve as entry points into this style, acting out every detail Olsson's character reveals, down to the pitiful look on the hunter's face when he comes crawling back after an evening of infidelity.
The next episode, "Selway," capitalizes on Tricklock's dramatic and physical theater talents, placing Morrigan and her character’s adventurous boyfriend, Jack (Chad Brummett), in a tiny boat on a river white with rapids. Turn for turn, Morrigan uses words to connect with every sense, while Brummett and the rest of the cast aid in the storytelling by acting out what she describes. The imagery created in this episode is stunning, a perfect marriage of performance and set design.
After the intermission, there’s a clever adaptation of man's best friend in "For Bo," a story of a woman (Olsson), her husband (Kevin R. Elder), their dogs (Brummett and Waldron) and her mother (Morrigan). Rounding out the evening is the title story, "Cowboys Are My Weakness," in which Schroeder faces the man she'll likely marry (a deer-loving isolationist played by Elder), the man she should marry (a ranch owner played by Brummett) and the man she wants to marry (the “ultimate cowboy,” played by Pollock).
The entire cast of Cowboys Are My Weakness is spot-on, including the musicians. The musical cues play an important role in this production, providing a deafening loudness or a well-placed slide whistle for added imagery. The set design by Richard K. Hess is another key factor in the production's success—the mountain-like structure is both detailed and vague, allowing the audience's imagination to fill in the necessary parts, aided by William Liotta’s lighting design.
This production of Cowboys Are My Weakness captures the success of the Tricklock Company. Tricklock has been a standout troupe for its willingness to take risks and create original theater, from script to stage, but it’s nice (and refreshing) to see the company take something tried-and-true and make it their own. It's clear the cast and Director Dodie Montgomery weren't ironing out the dramatic details during rehearsals. All of their time was dedicated to making Cowboys Are My Weakness a strong, Tricklockian production: visually stunning, precise, professional and enjoyable. A tip of the hat to you, Tricklock.