Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Coyote Ugly

Lynn Siefert
Icarus Theatre Collective
Finborough Theatre
(2004)

Before anyone gets too excited, it is necessary to point out that this is not the stage version of the film of the same name. That told the story of a singer with Leann Rimes voice who went to the Big Apple and ended up too close to the sex trade for comfort.

This play has something far more ambitious but also more shocking. It first saw the light of day in a production by the world-renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 1985, directed by their most famous son, John Malkovich.

Its power and success can be seen from the Jeff Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress that were received by Laurie Metcalf and Malkovich's wife at the time, Glenne Headly.

The story line is about the dysfunctional Pusey family. Father Red (Edmund Dehn) and mother Andreas (Annie Julian) are dirt poor. They live in the Arizona desert with their pubescent daughter Scarlet, named after O'Hara.

While the parents seem to spent most of their time bickering and dreaming of sexual fantasies, Scarlet, given real life by the impressive Jade Magri, is decidedly odd. The opening scene shows her "killing" a rag doll that represents her mother. It soon becomes clear that she is a true daddy's girl, in every sense of the term, who is given to hiding behind a coyote mask while carrying a bag of animal remains.

These unfulfilled lives seem to be heading nowhere until Dowd and Penny Pusey, played by Callum Walker and Lisa Renee, roll into town. Initially, they seem to be Philadelphia schoolteachers on holiday. While this is the case, Dowd has also come home to show off his new bride to the family after a 12-year absence.

This is the trigger for an overheated hormonal explosion that stretches to all five members of the Pusey clan, with deeply disturbing consequences.

Coyote Ugly is not a play for the weak stomached or callow. It delves into the taboo of incest without prurience but in considerable depth. This strand though is hardly more disconcerting than the humiliations that each of the characters endure as they battle through life.

This intense slice of unseen American life is well worth a visit. American director Max Lewendel has collected a strong cast who thankfully all manage absolutely convincing accents. On the sand covered set and with the temperature in the auditorium at an appropriate level, this sexy, steamy drama really hits home, especially after delivering the scorpion sting in its tail.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher