Review by Evan Meena
All Out arts in conjunction with the Wild Project, Fresh Fruit Festival, and Frank Calo, presented a special staged reading of Johnny B. Dunn’s new screenplay putting the members of a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) on bucking broncos for a championship rodeo in Free Range.
Under the direction of A.J. Ciccotelli, an intelligent and lively crowd got an engaging and well-acted first taste of what can and should be a major motion picture. It’s the story of a down-and-out cowboy leading a pack of not-so-manly guys, gays, and gals to enter history at a championship rodeo. Dunn has given us a well-written cross-section of the new Americana. An excellent ensemble playing bigots and new thinkers, trumpeting a new reality while Trumpers fight to keep us all quite antiquated.
The arena style staging promoted the actors to jump to the center of a very large stage to perform almost handing us the feeling of a battle, or at least, championship. Ciccotelli paced his artists so the afternoon moved quickly and remained totally engaging. Matthew McCarthy was excellent as Chad, the perfect hetero-cowboy and inspiration to every “real man.” The hitch to this cowboy was that he is on his way down. The piece opens where we see that – through accidents on the range – Chad is done-for as a rodeo star. This – of course – forces him to alcohol and pain killers. McCarthy gave a bravura showing as the caput Western hero. Equal parts tough guy and broken heart (over his own health and what he allowed happen to his now deceased gay brother) were well-played and consistent. The second plot concerns that of Toby Wilson, an out-of-the-closet rodeo rider whose acumen makes the locals “forgive” his situation. Chris London’s sensitive stature and hurt-kid aura was a perfect contract to Chad. London also gave a show-worthy performance in this reading setting. It was like both Chad and Toby possess Lion Hearts. They just got them in different cases.
Christine Nagy deserves credit as Toby’s supportive but suffering mother. Delivering some of the piece’s morals and learning moments, Nagy gave stage to the cowpokes beautifully and then took it back for some very defining moments. W. Allen Wrede and Alain Laforest as two rodeo announcers were simply hilarious and Eric Hackler deserves a standing ovation for turning stage directions into a radio-style narration that could stand on its own.
Critics might call Dunn’s work formulaic. Without giving away plot or parcels, the same details can be found in the Bad News Bears, A League of Their Own, and even some portions of Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love. But what the author has created is a gay parable just as the others were parables of other oppressed or ridiculed people. Dunn has given us the next level of gay cinema. Boys in the Band tells us what it means to be in the closet; Angels in America about the fight to get out; and Free Range – now that we’re here and queer … give us our due! To put it in something as manly as a rodeo was a stroke of genius.
A comment made at the discussion afterwards mentioned that this play was a rethinking of the Marlboro Man. Yup, it was. Well done, pardner!
Dear Matthew McConaughey … I think we have a vehicle for you.