Writers: Andrew Lynch &Mark McCabe
Director: Gary Duggan
Reviewer: Ciara Murphy
Set in Jackson County, Oklahoma, Death Row Cowboy tells the story of Carl Brant, who has been sentenced to die by lethal injection for the murder of his mother and a police officer. As five years pass, and the execution date draws closer, the police officer’s widow, Hillary Reece, reaches out to an old classmate, a prison officer in the penitentiary, for assistance in seeking closure on the death of her husband. Letters between Brant and Reece become the focus of the play’s storyline, but there is something more sinister lurking underneath the words.
Andrew Lynch plays Carl Brant in this production and it is clear from the beginning that his rôle in co-writing this piece, has had a positive effect on his own performance. Lynch is enigmatic, sincere and very talented. He keeps the audience drawn in, building the action to a crescendo. Inside the prison Carl’s confidante John Ritchie is played by Gerard Byrne. The intimacy between these two men is touching and is responsible for representing moments of true beauty in the script. When Ritchie is taken away to be executed, his act of simple reluctance jars the, up to now peaceful, action and focuses the audience on a more sinister and macabre realisation of how the play will end.
The relationship between the young widow Reece, played by Clara Harte, and prison officer Bobby Brewer, played by Mark McCabe, is awkward and tense. There is a feeling of secret underlying intentions and the two create this necessary tension very successfully. McCabe’s characterisation of Brewer lacks the authenticity of Lynch’s performance, but as the action unfolds, he becomes more believable, sinking into the darker aspects of his character. Harte is a great addition to the cast, her character’s pain and anguish is raw and real.
The set, framed by the exquisite Smock Alley Boys School façade, consists of two levels, the main stage representing the domestic space of Hillary Reece, and the space above illustrating the prison. The combination of these two spaces creates a sense of continuity in the performance making it fluid and trim. The musical accompaniment is organic and adds to the ambience. The production could have done without the ensemble cast members as their presence just made the performance clunky.
The main reason for this production’s success is the talent behind its script. Lynch and McCabe have created a wonderfully rounded, but ultimately believable script. The ending of the play could have been staged more convincingly however, as the energy that drove the action on waned as Death Row Cowboy drew to a close, but this is an easily re-workable flaw.
What Death Row Cowboy delivers is an excellent script, solid performances and a night of entertainment and suspense for its audience.
Photo courtesy of Bigger Picture Projects. Runs until August 23rd