Theatre Information

TheatreLAB Riding the Bull

By • Mar 21st, 2013 • Category: Reviews, Virginia
Riding the Bull
TheatreLAB: (Info) (Web)
Sycamore Rouge, Petersburg, VA
Through March 23rd
$15/$10 Seniors, Students
Reviewed March 19th, 2013

I had thought I was not going to be able to catch any more of the entries in the Acts of Faith Festival, but based on several recommendations, I squeezed in TheatreLAB’s production of Riding the Bull. I am glad that I did.

This play has it all — comedy, drama, allegory, symbolism and pathos. It even had a veritable who’s who in Richmond’s actors, directors and producers in attendance to show their support (apparently I wasn’t the only one to hear about it through word of mouth).

Gaylord “GL” Mitchell (Deejay Gray) is a rodeo clown in Godsburg, Texas. He tries to be a good man and a good Catholic, but he faces many temptations in his life, including a crazy mother and an absent father. He especially has problems with lust and hatred of fat people. Of course, he ends up falling for the fattest woman he knows, Lyza Mary (Maggie Bavalack). She is like a younger and “larger” Vicky Lawrence in “Mama’s Family.” Acerbic, yet still likeable and laughable.

The two end up having passionate, lustful sex — with one problem. Every time they make love, Lyza calls out another man’s name. At first, GL thinks they are the names of Lyza’s other boyfriends, but eventually he figures out that she is some how calling out the names of men who are about the win big sporting events. The two devise a gambling scheme where they can rake in a small fortune. However, as in life, enough is never enough and GL keeps wanting more.

The slow emotional transition of the two characters in the play is riveting. GL starts out as a sweet, innocent, warm and engaging southern hick — a cross between Gomer Pyle and Jimmy Chance on “Raising Hope.” Lyza begins as a slovenly, self-loathing atheist, who eats an entire pie in one sitting in the first scene. Act 1 is pure comedy, with Gray and Bavalack masterfully handling the pair’s banter, dead-pan humor and one liners. In the second act, everything changes. GL becomes mean and hateful and selfish, whereas Lyza becomes the empathetic character, and even “finds God” and believes her predictions are tied to visions from God.

My companion for the evening, Katie, pointed out that through the play she saw a new way to “believe.” Tactile things like money, notoriety, and sex don’t compare to what we believe, or desperately want to believe.

Playwright August Schulenburg wonderfully twists the story line, eventually punctuating the change in the two characters by having Lyza take over the narration that GL had been supplying throughout the show. Without revealing too much, the laughs are over by the end of Act 2, as GL’s innocence turns to selfishness and rage, and Lyza’s self loathing turns to self-realization and heartache. Both Gray and Bavalack are believable and raw in their emotions and vulnerability. A fight scene is realistic and intense (and again, I won’t spoil the ending). Bavalack’s anguished deep sobs are heart-rending.

Schulenburg also uses many interpretations to the “bull” in Riding the Bull. Does it refer to GL and Lyza’s sexual relationship? Does it stand for GL’s job as a rodeo clown, where others “ride the bull.” Is it a reference to Lyza’s bull “Suarte” which is Spanish for destiny or luck? Is it all the above?

Director Sarah Roquemore used the stage well. At the production on Tuesday at Gallery 5, she made good use of a small space to keep the action moving, varied and interesting. With the help of Set Designer McLean Jesse, the stage is simply adorned with bales of hay and a few saw horses which are moved and used as tables, chairs, cars, windows, etc., creating the essence of each scene. Jesse doubled as costumer, and visually enhanced the changes in the two characters between acts 1 and 2 with perfectly varied costumes, make-up and hair styles.

Among the nice touches were the singing duo of Brad Tuggle and Rebecca Muhleman who serenaded the audience with country music until the show started.

I always try to find something positive and some constructive criticism for each show, but Riding the Bull makes it hard to find fault. Bavalack does a fine Elvis impression earlier in the play, but seems to lose it at the emotional climax of the play. Gray is perfect with his facial expressions and movements as the “good” GL in Act 1, but could develop more “evil” in his expressions and mannerisms in Act 2.

Beyond that, all I can do is encourage you to catch the extended run of Riding the Bull closing this Saturday night at Sycamore Rouge. Trust me, the word of mouth is right on this one!

Photo Gallery

Photo 1 Photo 2
Photo 3

Photos provided by TheatreLAB

The Cast

  • GL Mitchell: Deejay Gray
  • Lyza Mary: Maggie Bavalack

The Crew

  • Director: Sarah Roquemore
  • Stage Manager: Addie Pawlick
  • Production Manager: Theresa Mantiply
  • Costume and Set Designer: McLean Jesse
  • Producers, Lighting and Sound Design: Matt Shofner and Maggie Roop
  • Production Assistant: Michael Musatow
  • Fight Choreographer: Axle Burtness
  • Poster Design: Adam Darland
  • Promotional Videography: Annie Colpitts
  • Photographer: Ben Hill

Disclaimer: TheatreLAB provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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