Review: Cowboy Mouth (Heart in Hand)

Heart in Hand Theatre embodies Toronto’s artistic climate with Cowboy Mouth

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a play as cool as Heart in Hand’s production of Cowboy Mouth. It’s bleeding rock and roll, bred in the glitz and grit of New York punk rock history, rebirthed in Toronto’s own vital music culture.

The setup is perfect. Co-written by legends Patti Smith and Sam Shepard as a snapshot of their tumultuous 1971 affair, Toronto audiences get to see Cowboy Mouth performed at the iconic Cameron House, starring Arts & Crafts musician Jason Collett in his acting debut. Everything about this is undeniably cool – cool layered on cool!

While our two main characters are named Slim and Cavale, Jason Collett is essentially playing the role of “Sam Shepard” and Jessica Huras, Heart in Hand’s co-artistic director, is acting “Patti Smith”. Some very cool roles to play.

The Globe and Mail already said it, and its true enough to repeat: if the Toronto theatre scene wants to be expanding its audience horizons, Heart in Hand is doing everything right. From what I know about the company, this is exactly their aim.

And Cowboy Mouth is the right piece to do this with. Apparently it’s a play about dichotomies, but Heart in Hand’s production felt like the meeting and melting place for things that are usually kept separate, a dichotomic refusal.

You could say that Cowboy Mouth joins fantasy with reality, love with hate, differing art forms, and performative areas typically fenced from each other. But you don’t really see the divides. There is only the space where everything bleeds together: the stage.

It’s a play of acoustics – a playing with acoustics. There’s a lot of yelling. Aside from a rumpled bed, the rest of the stage is taken up by musical instruments. Jason Collett sings and plays guitar for us, an actual melding of his two performative spaces.

There’s a lot of noise, but it doesn’t only resonate acoustically. Noise accentuates the claustrophobic passion Slim and Cavale share. Collett and Huras bounce off each other beautifully; they trade dramatics and make their apartment feel both very small and big enough to share. Their dynamic affair feels equally terrible and desirable.

Interestingly, amidst the tumult, the bulk of the action surrounds a silent Lobster Man (Mikey Lipka). In a rock and roll play about sound, the silent man is the one who leaves the stage transformed.

Cowboy Mouth is good art, plain and simple. It’s a play with a sense of play, and invites its sister arts to join the game. This attitude is so fitting for Toronto’s current artistic climate: it’s inclusive, it’s relevant, and it’s well made. Plus, it’s cool, and so is this city.

Details

  • Cowboy Mouth is playing through February 14, 2013 at Cameron House (408 Queen St. W.)
  • Performances are Jan 30- 31, Feb 1- 3, 6-10, and 13-14 at 8 pm
  • Tickets are $20-$25
  • Tickets are available online at heartinhandtheatre.com with last minute tickets available at the door on performance nights

Photo by Adam Mocco

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