Blazing saddles and splitting side

Dark laughs and gun fights abound at ‘Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage’

Matt Graham

There’s good guys and there’s bad guys.”

Such is the favorite saying of Rob Bob, the rodeo rider/romantic lead in “Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage.”

But while the John Wayne fanatic makes this known several times throughout the play, Jane Martin’s script subtly subverts the Western notions of black and white – subtle, because the audience will be too busy laughing to pay much attention to its philosophical questioning of just who the good guy is and who the bad guy is.

The play takes place in the kitchen of Big 8 (Karen Weise-Thompson), a rodeo star past her glory days. Big 8 now heals injured cowboys in exchange for their, ahem, masculine services – her latest patient, the less-than-brilliant Rob Bob (Josh Jabas).

One night the punked-out, pink-haired Shedevil (Rachel Finch) shows up claiming she’s pregnant with Big 8’s grandchild. Not only that, but she’s on the run from her pissed-off biker boyfriend (who’s not the baby’s daddy), Black Dog (Bob Malos).

Rob Bob immediately sees Shedevil as his leading lady in need of rescue. When Black Dog shows up, Rob Bob decides to showcase his heroism the classic cowboy way, with a showdown.

The highlight of the production is Weise-Thompson’s performance as Big 8 with her booming voice, perfect Southern drawl and deft timing. Her tough-as-nails cowgirl often seems like the only sane character on stage, and it’s her authority that holds the whole play together.

Jabas also does a great job as Rob Bob – notably in an early scene that calls for him to stand amid the area theater in nothing more than a jockstrap. Now that’s bravery.

It’s Martin’s script, though, that truly makes the play. Her artistry lies in her ability to deal with philosophical subtleties without beating the audience over the head with them, and the script never gets sidetracked from its sidesplitting combination of witty Southernisms (“You raised him up so stupid he couldn’t roll a rock down a steep hill!”) and dark, wacky action that keep the plot rolling.

Rather than preach at length on good and evil, the script shows characters who appear on the surface to be one or the other and act like neither.

In the end, the characters are so likeable and responsible for so many laughs that it’s hard to care that they’re all liars, thieves, murderers and/or conspirators. All that really matters is that they’re funny.

There’s good plays and there’s bad plays. This is a good one.