At the beginning of Good Job Horses, three gunslingers tumble into a lonesome desert hotel, toting overflowing bags of bloody money. It turns out they’ve also tumbled out of the known universe and into Fergusonland, where broad physical comedy coexists with intimate personal confessions and nothing is ever quite what it seems.
That’s Fergusonland as in Jon, the artistic director of Theatre Forever and the director of this wild Western, collaboratively created with actors Kate Tarker (a Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellow who served as the show’s lead writer), Carly Wicks, Charlotte Calvert, and Ryan Patrick.
Good Job Horses, Theatre Forever’s entry in the Southern Theater’s ArtShare season, is a loose, amusing look at what might happen if three tough cowgirls paused to take stock of their lives before a High Moon (get it?) shoot-out. The heart of the show is in its sketch-like comic scenes, but there’s a lot here to look at and listen to: as one expects from Ferguson, the sets (by Ferguson), lighting (by Tony Stoeri), and music (performed live on acoustic guitar by the invaluable Tim Cameron) are all elegant and inventive.
The hotel’s proprietor, Ray (Patrick), turns out to be a mensch: a master sculptor of towel animals who’s operating his no-tell hotel as a safe space for female empowerment. In exchange for a hefty quantity of the bandits’ stolen cash, Ray leads them in meditation exercises, spa sessions, and foam-noodle pool chats. Each of the three love-starved women would like a piece of Ray—their attempts to seduce him lead to some of the show’s biggest laughs—but the hotelier is, as Wicks’s character Jessie realizes, “of the rainbow persuasion.”
Some of the show’s early scenes are very funny, as the odd trio settle in and agree to participate in Ray’s under-attended retreat. We learn a bit more about their past, particularly about their two fallen comrades, and we learn of their trepidation at the confrontation to come when a sort of sheriff’s posse—played by the three women hiding behind mustachioed cacti—catches up with them. They’re confident but dim, a sort of Three Amigas caught in the stagecoach headlights. Wicks and Calvert in particular find the sweet spots with their brash, befuddled broads.
Though individual sequences succeed brilliantly, in the end the show fails to add up to more than the sum of its parts. As the play turns from loony physical farce to poignant drama, it gets lost in the tumbleweeds; it could have been a great riotous genre spoof in the vein of Bedlam’s recent Space Girl, but in leaping at larger themes, Good Job Horses falls short. With tighter editing and a more grounded tone, it might have worked better in that respect—but the absurdist comic chemistry among these four performers is so strong, Good Job Horses is well worth saddling up on.