To say Cow Play is just a thought provoking piece of theater would be a tragic understatement. Less Than Rent, an ambitious and productive group of rising artists, have brought this enticing play to life in perfect Fringe fashion. Without giving too much away for fear of spoiling the plot, Cow Play centers around two brothers, Mark and Jed, one who’s able to break free from the constraints of home, the other who remains. Mark goes to college, falls in love with Julie, an actress, while Jed tends to the farm after the sudden death of their father. The play presents various themes including grief, what it means to succeed and the values of life and death. The piece is broken up into four parts. The first and fourth parts transcend time and place, bouncing from location to location, while the second and third part remain on the farm over the course of one summer. The middle two sections are by far the most interesting parts of the play forcing the first and last to serve more as a too lengthy prologue and an epilogue of exposition show and tell. As the play unfolds, Julie starts to scarcely emulate a person from Mark and Jed’s past, which affects them both in drastically different ways playing straight into the ideals of how to grieve the ghosts of the past.
Cow Play contained so many aspects of theatrical styles, from realism to abstract to surrealistic elements, that I was so intrigued by the occasional disconnect. Sometimes for better, sometimes not so much. Perhaps it was when and how the projections were used. The claymation cows were appealing to the eye but left little to the imagination. The conceit with projecting the various letters, documents, and other objects took away from the great work the actors were doing in front of the blank wall. Again, another instance of show and tell. In a film version, the camera would probably pan into the letter the character was reading. It just didn’t fair well in a theater setting. There was rarely a moment where there was not action on stage. Charlie Polinger’s staging was quite polished. He created a cohesive language of locale for the characters to play in. When we jumped time, there was never confusion. Dan Geggatt’s set served perfectly to suggest the world of the play allowing for the right amount of imagination to set in. Less is more in this instance.
If you’re looking to see the next generation of theater artists, you must see Less Than Rent’s production. Expect big things from them in the future. They’re heading in the right direction.