Sept. 3, 2004





A new spin on the Old West


If Sam Shepard wrote an episode of "King of the Hill," or "Northern Exposure" had been set in Montana, the result might resemble Robert Tobin's shaggy-dog story of a play, "Western Big Sky."


Set chiefly in a ramshackle tavern run by a violently bickering couple, Hank (Britt George) and Dorothy (Barbara Bragg), the play spins out a series of unlikely confrontations, transgressive clinches and drunken exchanges among a gallery of outsized characters, from a trailer-trash hippie (Dan Mandel) to an unreconstructed latter-day cowboy (Tyler Tanner), from a mellow, erudite Native American (Rex Lee) to a pair of goth Satanists (Robert Benjamin and playwright Tobin).


It's to Tobin's credit that none of these potential stereotypes quite lives down to the expected cliches. The show's nominal hero--an impudent non-conformist named Bill (Donald Osborne), who says of his aimless existence, "There's gotta be more"--turns out to be a bit of a goofball, while two of the tavern's more sedentary onlookers, Taylor (William Morton) and Cody (Kipp Chambers), take on unexpected dimensions, if not what you'd call depth. And one light-in-his-boots cowpoke (Victor Yerrid) harbors a less well-kept secret.


After a while the play's surprises tend to settle into a rhythm of willful quirkiness. And while director L. Flint Esquerra gives the proceedings a tone of droll whimsy that is genuinely funny, the play's darker strains are awkwardly integrated; a pair of shooting deaths barely register, either as tragedy or as absurd accident.


Still, for laughs that flow and fizz as easily as beer, "Western Big Sky" makes a fine libation.

--Rob Kendt


"Western Big Sky," the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 2. $15. (323) 957-1152. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.