The Delta Boys @ Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School
Through Oct. 24
Sam Shepard’s dramas always veer into the rawest of human emotions—and the semiautobiographical Cowboy Mouth is perhaps his most personal work. The Delta Boys’ presentation at Meymandi Theatre combines the short with two other Shepard monologues, creating a searing, sometimes sensual piece of theater.
The set consists of a bare mattress, drum set, turntable and some old records. Lucius Robinson plays Slim, a man living in a small room with Cavale (Elsbeth Cassandra Taylor). Slim, who claims Cavale abducted him away from his wife and child, attempts to resist Cavale’s efforts to play muse, spurring him into a life as a rock star. Cavale, meanwhile, lounges around in her underwear and listens to rock and roll records while rambling about the French poet Gérard de Nerval and playing with a dead crow she’s nicknamed “Raymond.” They are alone in their isolated dream-reality save for appearances by the “Lobster Man” (Stephen LeTrent), a monosyllabic food delivery man who becomes Cavale’s latest plaything. The limited action of the play focuses on the strange reality the two have created, as they riff on ideas of desire, freedom and the mythological power of rock stars.
Cowboy Mouth, whose title is taken from Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” was co-written with the rock singer Patti Smith, with whom Shepard was having an affair at the time. Slim’s situation mirrors Shepard’s, who famously fled playing the character after one performance. The production emphasizes the raw dysfunction at the core of the characters’ relationship, with Robinson hitting his stride during Slim’s fits of fury and Taylor capturing the physicality at the heart of Cavale’s toxic appeal.
This production is bookended with Robinson and Taylor’s performance of Savage/ Love, a series of relationship vignettes, and LeTrent’s performance of the existential monologue The War in Heaven (Shepard co-wrote both pieces with Joseph Chaikin). They relate to the main play thematically and are performed well, though the three works don’t necessarily come together as one coherent story. But the results are good enough that you don’t care—the production is absolutely fearless, laying bare the psyches of the damaged souls at the heart of Shepard’s most personal work.