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‘Late, a Cowboy Song’ is whimsical, but worth the ride.

‘Late, a Cowboy Song,’ one of Sarah Ruhl’s early plays, is a whimsical little thing. It’s the kind of play where you see it and you laugh at it and you reflect on bits of it later – but what was it about, exactly? You may conclude that its sum is not as great as its parts. But I will say this – it’s worth the ride. Especially if you attend the current production at Main Stage West.

Mary, a young woman with a perpetually anxious expression and a tendency to be late, lives with Crick, a self-absorbed man who is variously impatient, petulant and emotionally demanding. Red, as the name suggests, is a cowboy – except that she’s a woman, and former schoolmate of Mary and Crick. When the two women meet by accident, Mary is drawn into Red’s world, which takes place outside the city limits and is one of freedom and individual choice. “You have the right to chase happiness,” Red tells her. But is she ready to face the consequences?

Sharia Pierce as Mary flits from happy to worried to distressed, sometimes in seconds. ‘Late’ is her story; her habit of being late is a constant irritation to Crick who frequently references the large clock on the wall, but ‘late’ has other meanings for Mary too, including her apparent lateness to mature and move away from a confining and clearly unhealthy relationship. Pierce makes her physically restless while her expressive face constantly gives away her often conflicting feelings.

Red, played by real-life 5th generation rancher Nancy Prebilich, reveals both humor and sweetness beneath her cowboy swagger. Prebilich skillfully walks a fine line between strength and vulnerability, while her intentions towards Mary remain ambiguous even as her straightforward way of speaking is part of her attraction. When Red gently suggests to Mary that she try not talking for a while, Mary, who can barely comply with this request even though she wants to, says wonderingly of the brief silence, “there’s no shadow over any part of it.” It speaks volumes about her relationship with Crick, but it also hints that Mary has not really understood Red.

Jeff Cote as Crick has a difficult part to play, since his character is largely unsympathetic, manipulative and sorry for himself, with few redeeming features. Fortunately, this talented actor succeeds in giving Crick the right amount of menace to make you believe that he hasn’t hit Mary, but he easily might, coupled with a neediness and just enough tenderness to make it hard for her to leave him.

This very strong cast is complemented by clear direction from Missy Weaver, a well laid-out stage (set design by David Lear), excellent lighting (also Missy Weaver), a plethora of props including a magical blue balloon and a truly magnificent horse, and the musical interludes between scenes provided by Red and her twanging guitar.

As you would expect from Ruhl, underneath its quirky comedy, ‘Late’ also broaches some serious topics, such as gender fluidity and personal freedoms, without ever being overtly preachy. It all makes for an interesting, if unsettling, journey, and this production offers a road worth traveling. Saddle up!

‘Late, a Cowboy Song’ plays at Main Stage West Theatre, Sebastopol until December 18. Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Show times and tickets at

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