Morgan Rose’s Virgins and Cowboys presents, examines and deconstructs the shortcomings and consequences of perverse ambition, and the grey in-betweens of a generation that is always looking for something more.
Presented by Theatre Works and Mothership Productions in partnership with the VCA, Virgins and Cowboys, as part of FLIGHT Festival of New Australian Writing, traverses bounds far deeper than its outset leads one to believe.
Subway sandwich artist, Sam (Kieran Law), a 23-year-old university dropout, meets two girls online; two virgins – and, in lauding the praises of finding something seemingly so rare, he and his friends Dale (George Lingard) and Kieran (James Deeth) decide the he should be the one to deflower one of these virgins. Yet this wish is foiled not only by Lane’s (Penelope Harpham) initially manic and obsessive nature and Steph’s (Katrina Cornwell) seeming disinterest, but also by deeper personal and shared flaws. However, this basic premise of the play’s story merely scratches the surface of Rose’s sharp and immersive dark comedy.
A sense of personal disconnectedness in the cyber world, as well as in reality, is heightened and played upon in the outset, manifesting in several stifled and awkward exchanges that feel familiar yet foreign at the same time. This consciousness of the changing mediums in which relationships are created and maintained in the 21st century is skilfully reflected in Yvette Turnbull’s simple and effective design, which, as with Sam’s world as the play progresses, falls apart into a worldless mass of distilled emotion.
Effective and engaging performances from the entire cast of five prove to translate various raw feelings and energies into frequently relatable examples of our contemporary human condition. Kieran Law gave voice to a deeply broken Sam, whose progressive descent was competently conveyed, rounding out a sometimes deftly funny, yet sometimes intensely sensitive performance. Penelope Harpham shone as one of the two virgins, Lane, delivering a dextrous and often deliciously comic performance. However, brilliance existed in her embodiment of some strongly moving moments of poignant naivety. George Lingard and James Deeth as Sam’s friends Dale and Kieran worked well in creating a small sense of connection in reality with Sam and others, delivering, at points, some moments of stifling confrontational honesty with Katrina Cornwell’s Steph injecting a sense of some more mature real-talk.
Dave Sleswick’s commendable direction resulted in a rounded, cohesive whole, taking Rose’s script into a physical dimension beyond words, with several very interesting and successful choices. Technically, Virgins and Cowboys was complemented with an effective lighting design by Lisa Mimbus and sound design with Liam Barton – each proving to positively heighten the atmospheric world of the play.
The play navigates hills and valleys, both high and low, essentially exploiting the turmoils of an increasingly disconnected world, among Rose’s well constructed moments of fast-paced comedy and more emotional exchanges. With strong emotional deteriorations amid a progressively banal and condensed emotional experience, Virgins and Cowboys exists as a successful probe into our current world, and the seemingly endless, often unfruitful, pursuit of a vague whiff of happiness.
With the characters possessing elements of people you know and recognise, there are, indeed, strong facets that are relatable – in some way or another. As a result, Virgins and Cowboys successfully stirs thoughts and feelings within, provoking thought about society’s inability to connect, and aims to possess something worthwhile. What exactly those thoughts and feelings are, however, I cannot quite pin down: that is why the piece works so well.