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Coyote Ugly

Finborough Theatre
29 June - 24 July 2004
Rip Her To Shreds

Coyote Ugly

by Lynn Siefert

Critics' Choice: Time Out, Robert Shore
Play of the Week: The Church of England Newsletter

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Reviews


Robert Shore, Time Out

If you fancy feeling the sand between your toes this week, Lynn Siefert's 'Coyote Ugly' (no relation to the film of the same name) may be just what you're looking for. To reach your seat, you have to cross a sand-covered stage on which are strewn deck chairs, a sofa bed, a fridge and a small stove with a pan of water bubbling away on it.

Twelve years after quitting his parents' home in deepest Arizona, Dowd returns in order to present his bride, Penny. Understandably, the latter has never met anyone quite like her husband's unconventional desert-dwelling folks before. There's a strong whiff of incest about their domestic arrangements: feral daughter Scarlet humps daddy Red's leg while mom, Andreas, on being told that Dowd is now impotent, states authoritatively that her son's pecker worked perfectly well when he lived with her. When Penny tries to befriend Scarlet, she ends up bound and blindfolded and being dragged out into the midday sun by the 'little cannibal, little bonecrusher'.

In this elemental drama, the characters do real things like gut fish and wear dog's heads, and express themselves in a vivid, gritty, imagistic patois. It's one of the great strengths of Max Lewendel's production that, despite being up a flight of stairs over a pub in Earl's Court, the meticulous stage design evokes the play's desert setting so powerfully. And the excellent cast certainly enter into the spirit of the script's exotic form of domestic madness - part Sam Shepard, part sexed-up Three Stooges, it makes for an intense and wittily uncivilised evening's entertainment. Robert Shore



Le Roux Schoeman, The Church of England Newspaper

If you are mistakenly associating this intimate and moving production of Lynn Siefert's 1985, 90-minute play of love, sand and incest with the similarly named, latter-day Hollywood movie about bar girls, hold that thought. Coyote Ugly (Directed by Max Lewendel for the mildly claustrophobic Finborough Theatre in Earl's Court) is, in Hollywood terms, a cynical version of Meet the Parents set in the isolationist Southwestern America. The five-member cast fill the dim confines of the theatre like a desert storm and as the story, essentially a tragedy resigned to its fate, unfolds, one can just about feel the Arizona sun's unrelenting scorch on the fragile lives beneath it. It runs until July 24.

Visit London (Totally London)

Director Max Lewendel follows in illustrious footsteps with his production of Lynn Siefert's twisted tale of dysfunctional family life. The great John Malkovich was at the helm of Coyote Ugly's premiere staging by The Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago.

Such comparisons do not seem to have fazed the young director or members of Icarus Theatre Collective. In a starkly furnished home located in the Arizona desert, young Scarlet (Jade Magri) launches an explosive tirade against her mother, Andreas (Annie Julian). Temperatures soar even further when father Red (Edmund Dehn) returns home having just acquired a gleaming Buick. He hopes to christen the back seat with his wife. Scarlet excitedly begs to take her mother's place, so that she might be taken away from this stifling environment. Allegiances and attractions change oncer more with the arrival of prodigal son Dowd (Callum Walker) and his new wife Penny (Lisa Renee), who is apparently eager to see her husband's family and home - more fool her! Dowd possesses a high sexual charge which neither his mother nor his sister can resist. Through various heated tableaux, the family rails and succumbs to its collective attractions. And the stark, unforgiving Arizona desert is the only constant that remains. In Lewendel's production, correct moral codes are blurred by the realisation that all of the characters in Seifert's drama hunger desperately for love, wherever they can find it.

The cast navigates the perilous emotional terrain with aplomb, especially the sexually charged and menacing Walker. In her role as Scarlet, Ms Magri could so easily have reduced the part to cliche and caricature but she manages to tease out real pathos. Julian also deserves a special mention as the frustrated, middle-aged predator, whose longings for her son are cooled when he eventually fixes his eyes on someone younger. Coyote Ugly is a little strained in length, but narrative and characterisation are strong. An enjoyable snapshot of Weirdsville, USA.

John Thaxter, What's On

After twelve years in academia, Dowd brings his city bride, Penny, home to Navajo County to meet the folks. Dad, a feckless bum and car thief, takes an unhealthy interest in the young woman. But stocky, muscular Dowd is even more troubled by his sexy mum, too long starved of her boy's affectionate attentions, and by his sister Scarlet, a wild 12-year-old, like a coyote bitch on heat.

The like with Pinter's The Homecoming, written 20 years earlier, seems evident. But Lynn Siefert's overwrought portrait of family life in the sunbaked Arizona desert is more concerned with incestuous yearnings than sex as a controlling force. And as the play ends Dowd is set to take his under-age sister back to civilisation, dressed in virginal white with a lipstick grin and sparkling eyes, while leaving his wife, unhinged by the sun, to go native.

This suggests a more rational piece than the Icarus Theatre Collective has staged: 90 minutes of manic hysteria in a sea of words and forceful action, with Penny hog-tied and left to bake in the sun, dad as a priapic hoodlum, and mum schmoozing Dowd, while Scarlet beats the shit out of a totem doll.

The setting by Chris Hone and director Max Lewendel strews desert sand across the stage, it even gets to the bottom half of a battered Frigidaire, while a saucepan of water bubbles on the stove and mysteriously never evaporates. But the actors are the strongest reason for seeing the show, with a dazzling turn by Jade Magri as Scarlet, and a beautifully restrained, delicately erotic performance by Annie Julian as Dowd's mum.

Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide

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 school teachers 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.




Timothy Ramsden, Reviews Gate


Sizzling bursts of desire and hate among the North American sands.

The name of Sam Shepard must loom over a generation of American playwrights as 'Pinteresque' has over a generation of British, as influence, on play, character or dialogue, snaffling away a purportedly individual voice. Still, Lynn Seifert walks foursquare into the trap with her play, now revived by Icarus Theatre Collective.

Here's the desert - this time in northern Arizona - well-represented by the sand-covered floor over which audience members have to trek, strewn in one corner with trailer-trash appurtenances. A bed where Andreas is discovered snoring, and disintegrating fridge, source of cool liquor.

Here, too, are isolated characters caught in a routine rooted in emotion and instinct, where small matters are magnified by near-crazed obsession. And no more than Scarlet, the coyote, father-fixated and father's woman hating.

Siefert draws on both the animal, and a Navajo human type. Both are cunning loners and unpredictable tricksters. From the start, Jade Magri moves animal-like over the stage, impulsive and determined, emotionally sparky, needing to be placated. If there's a limit to the performance, it's only a sense of composure lurking within the eyes and facial expression. Her obsession with minutiae is matched by the older generation, notably Edmund Dehn's Red, whose pride is the car he brings home, from somewhere. For him it's progress and liberation; it all, of course, ends badly. The desert is to remain these people's home.

Into it, still in the Shepard (and traditional dramatic) manner, comes a stranger. Two strangers, though for Dowd it's a homecoming of sorts, despite Scarlet not knowing him. Nothing's straightforward in family groups built on pure emotion. But it's his partner Penny, polite and willing to please, who finds herself caught in this weird, painful and intense world. Lisa Renee copes well with the struggle to maintain some social balance in this maddened milieu. Siefert's success is in the vivid quality of her characters, caught well by Icarus' cast. It's a tortured, quite fascinating journey, even if one you can't help recalling having made - or something rather similar - before. If you have, that is.

Times Review

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