Journey of self-discovery discards labels

Director Alyssa Bradac describes Sarah Ruhl’s Late A Cowboy Song as a “love song to oneself.” Third Street Theatre is staging the Calgary premiere of the play which is one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s less frequently performed works.

The story follows the central character Mary (Carly McKee) and her interactions with her husband Crick (Kyall Rakoz) and a cowboy named Red (Geneviève Paré). Bradac says other productions have interpreted Late A Cowboy Song as “a woman leaves her husband for another woman and becomes a lesbian” but that’s not the story she directs.

“The play is really about one woman’s journey of self-discovery” she says adding that Red serves as a “catalyst for change” for Mary. “It’s about Mary embracing her own life and taking charge of it.”

While directing the production Bradac says she made the interesting discovery that the English language doesn’t have any word to define a deep “connection” between two people.

“We have a ton of ways to define love. We can describe and define relationships like nobody’s business but we don’t have a word to describe that special non-verbal connection” she adds. And it’s that connection that exists between Mary and Red.

“At Third Street we’re about exploring the total package that makes us human. The idea of connection between two people of any gender race or background is a really interesting phenomenal thing to explore. It doesn’t have to be a love connection…. To put a definition on their relationship would cheapen the text and the human experience.”

Bradac says one thing she loves about Ruhl’s writing is its “ambiguous” nature and the room the playwright leaves in the script for interpretation. For example words like lesbian gay and homosexual never appear in the text.

“It’s not at all about Mary’s sexuality; it’s about the embracement and the acceptance of self.… In life if we don’t think something is working we try something else and then something else. We are just trying to live lives that make us happy” says Bradac.

“We get so tied to labels in our community. That’s frustrating. On one hand we need the labels to root us in an identity. On the other hand they can hold us back from just being human.”

Bradac who identifies as a lesbian also acknowledges however that many people disagree with her point of view “on a highly political level.”

“What’s so exciting in this script is the potential within us for growth the potential for exploration of things beyond our own self-identified labels” she adds.

The play’s title comes from Mary’s character trait of always being late something Bradac says can lead into a larger exploration of how we mark time in our culture and what that means. “Whose time are we moving at?” she asks.

In Late A Cowboy Song Mary is living under Crick’s time. “It demonstrates how out of her own self she is. It’s a huge contention between her and Crick.”

In contrast there’s no such thing as being “late” for the cowboy Red. “Things get done when they get done” explains Bradac.

Audiences can expect a lot of live music throughout the show as Paré plays guitar and sings a number of “cowboy songs” that feature lyrics by Ruhl with music by sound designer Michael Wanless and assistant director Jonathan Brower.

And while Red may sing the songs of the trail and live the cowboy life Mary becomes the story’s metaphorical cowboy as she learns to take charge of her own destiny.