By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Feb 4, 2011, at 2:21 AM Updated on 2/04/11 at 6:32 AM
With a title like “Back Bog Beast Bait” – a quartet of words that is about as easy to pronounce as “six thick thistle sticks” – one might imagine that the show opening Thursday at the Nightingale Theater is some kind of comedy.
And one would be sort of right.
“Back Bog Beast Bait” is a relatively early work by Sam Shepard, best known for plays such as “Curse of the Starving Class,” “Fool for Love” and “True West.”
“At that time,” said John Cruncleton, who is directing and performing in the Nightingale’s production, “Shepard was writing pretty much whatever was in his head. He had all the filters off and a lot of the stuff he was producing then was coming more or less straight from the subconscious.”
So … a pair of cowboy-types show up at the door of a shack in which a pregnant woman has barricaded herself. They insist they’ve been hired to protect her from whatever it is out there in the wilds out back of the shack. As time passes, and other odd characters arrive, it begins to appear that this beast out in the bog could well be a two-headed, fire-breathing pig-like creature bent on the destruction of the human race – or whoever might be in this backwater shack.
“It’s very much an apocalyptic play,” Cruncleton said. “And because of that, it relies a lot on atmospherics. The dialogue contains mish-mashed passages from the apocalyptic books of the Bible, like Revelation. And it’s full of a lot of meaty things that performers and designers like to play with.
“I mean, it’s cowboys squaring off and pulling guns on each other,” he said, chuckling. “Who doesn’t want to play at that for a while?”
Cruncleton and Joseph Gomez will portray the cowboys, with Sara Cruncleton as Maria, the rifle-toting woman in the cabin. Andy Axewell appears as a demented preacher and Sara Wilemon plays the witchy woman with the fearsome fiddle and bag full of spells.
“Back Bog Beast Bait” weaves three songs into the course of the play – one, a Lou Reed tune titled “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” and two others with lyrics by Shepard.
“The music for those two songs is usually left up to the performers,” Cruncleton said. “Annie Ellicott has written some beautiful tunes for those lyrics, and she’ll be performing those, along with Steve Beard on percussion.”
Because “Back Bog Beast Bait” is short, the evening will also include Jeremy Sheldon performing Shepard’s monologue, “Killer’s Head.”
“I’ve always loved that monologue,” Cruncleton said. “And it was written about the same time as the play, so there are some ideas that resonate between the two pieces we’ll be doing.”
BACK BOG BEAST BAIT
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday and Feb. 10-12
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $10. 633-8666