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Laughs on the range with Cowboy: A Cowboy Story

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Accidental Humour Co. makes some hay with the western movies with their new production Cowboy: A Cowboy Story, which blends elements of multi-media, movies and stage plays. It continues this week at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, Sept. 28-Oct. 1. New West Theatre opened the show, Sept. 21.
The Edmonton based group of University of Lethbridge graduates will make you laugh with the new, expanded production. Willie Banfield, Neil James, Cliff Kelly, and Jeremy Mason in Cowboy:a  Cowboy Story. Photos by Richard Amery

Trouble is brewing when a stoic Cliff Kelly playing Cowboy (cue rattlesnake sound effect) wanders into the bar of an unnamed “one whore town” and happens upon a poker game with delightfully sinister Sheriff played by Frazer Andrews and his deputies the Kid (played by a childlike Jeremy Mason) and Welsh (Neil James) in a poker game.

O Willie, wearing a distracting fake grey beard, gets involved in the action and attaches himself to Cowboy, but that only causes more trouble. Sheriff breaks up the initial confrontation between his men and Cowboy, then sends Cowboy upstairs where he meets town whore Lucy, who is also played by a hilarious Willie Banfield, this time with his actual beard, and falls in love with her. The rest is standard, though surreal, western fare. There are shootouts, fistfights, train robberies, horse riding, nefarious plots and a few twists and turns along the way which I won’t spoil.

You know you are going to have a good time as soon as you walk in the door and see a video of a comforting, crackling campfire you soon learn has been built by narrator O Willie, played by a show stealing Willie Banfield, to cook baked beans which he stirs with his fingers.
“We came through like five years ago. We’re all University of Lethbridge graduates. And we’ve all brought it back on a tour across Alberta,” said co-director and playwright and video designer  Brent Felzien.

The cast includes former New West artistic director Jeremy Mason, Willie Banfield, who has performed in several New West productions, Cliff Kelly and Frazier Andrew. Each of them play multiple characters.
Several different characters appear on screen while others appear live on stage so different characters played by the same actor can interact with each other. The interaction between the two worlds — video and on stage—  is seamless. For example when a character spits on screen or shoots in the middle of a bar, a spittoon on stage falls over. Characters on stage shoot characters on screen and it feels natural.

Though Cowboy: A Cowboy Story is definitely a comedy, and knows it, (a close up of the Kid’s poker hand shows Uno cards and the last gunfight turns into an old fashioned shooting video game, ) everybody pretty much dies in the end. You definitely have to suspend your disbelief and just laugh, especially when Cowboy and O Willie are riding barrel horses across the stage.

 But it is a ride definitely worth taking. Mason does an excellent job of playing two contrasting characters — the childlike Kid and the more serious “Gunfighter.”
“We’ve added some new choreography and two new video projectors and screens,” Felzien said, noting their theatre company Accidental Humour Company‘s mandate is to combine theatre with movies.
“We all love theatre and we all love movies, so we wanted to develop something that combines our love for both of them, to build and tour them,” he said.
He said Cowboy: A Cowboy Story is both a satire and an homage to western movies.

“It’s a little of both,” he said,  adding the play allows them to explore the various facets of western movies they enjoy.
“It’s very silly, very funny and lots of action, horse riding, train robbing and romance,” he said.
“It’s all the things we love about about  westerns,” he said.

“It’s a pretty straight forward western plot. A stranger rides into town and finds himself in the middle of  of a lot of mischief and villainous characters and falls in love and tries to reconcile his desire for freedom and try to do what’s right,” he described.
Jeremy Mason is excited to be back in Lethbridge for a longer run of the production, which has been a hit at the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

“I actually play two  characters. I play the Kid, who is a very kid-like cowboy. He’s a young gun, but also very childlike as well. The other character is  a gunslinger, all dressed in black. He’s brooding and mysterious,” Mason described.
“In the second half of the show you realize what it’s really about,” he said.

 They have been enjoying touring the province with the show.
“We were just in Slave Lake, which was a long drive. So it is good to be back especially because we  all University of Lethbridge graduates. So it really is fun to come back and spend some more time in Lethbridge,” he said.
“The play is really funny. We have some fun with spaghetti westerns,” he said.
“The best part is I get to perform with four very funny people, so I’ve been laughing all the time especially  in rehearsal.
“Cowboy: A Cowboy Story runs at the Sterndale Bennett  Theatre  at 7:30 p.m. each night Sept, 21- Oct. 1
There are also matinees at noon, Sept. 27 and at 1 p.m. on Oct. 1.

A version of this story appears in the Sept. 28, 2016 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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