Nothing is typical about Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage – or that’s the general consensus. Sponsored by the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the all-student play has been labeled as “a ‘B’ western/horror flick for the stage,” combining both exaggerated western and horror themes into a comedic play.
Set in Casper, Wyoming, the play is about Big 8, a woman who is retired from the rodeo scene and now works to help heal young cowboys who have been injured in accidents. While taking care of a Western-obsessed dreamer named Rob Bob, a rebellious pink-haired punk named Shedevil stumbles in. Shedevil is on the run from her Ukrainian biker boyfriend and claims to be carrying the child of Big 8’s son. From there, chaos erupts as the play begins by spoofing traditional western dramas.
“They’re very bad guy/good guy – you know, damsel in distress, shootout, that kind of thing – very clear and straight as an arrow, so it’s making fun of that somewhat,” director David Mann said.
The play also takes horror and gore to a new extreme.
“We do a lot of blood, to the point where it becomes ridiculous because it’s not meant to be particularly realistic,” Mann said. “It’s meant to, again, sort of take it to the extreme so far that it becomes funny. So it really takes a sort of structure of a standard Western and turns it on its head.”
Mann teaches theater at USF and has directed plays at Florida Atlantic University, where he previously taught. To him, Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage is more than a play – it’s a sitcom.
“Situation comedy essentially is (getting) your hero into a bad situation and keep making it worse,” he said. “It just keeps getting more and more ridiculous – the things that are happening and trying to deal with it and all that kind of stuff.”
Mann believes that the play’s exaggerated violence will appeal to viewers.
“The gore, the blood, the guns, the dirty language. It’s very modern,” he said. “I want them to laugh their butts off the entire time.”
Theater performance major Grayson Ross plays the role of Shirl, Big 8’s sister, and believes students who aren’t theatergoers will enjoy the play’s unconventional approach.
“It’s fast-paced, very quick, very funny; it’s got a movie feel,” she said. “Students that don’t typically attend theater performances will be more inclined to, I think, enjoy this versus more classical performances.”
According to Ross, Mann directed it in such a way that the play appeals to college students’ age group.
“We know a lot of these references in the show, a lot of the icons,” she said.
The cast of six students started rehearsing a month before the play’s opening night last Thursday. The actors were given some freedom to experiment with their roles.
“We’ve got a biker chick with spikes in her hair, you know? It’s whatever goes,” Ross said. “Whatever’s funny, whatever we wanted to play with – that’s what (Mann) let us do, so that was really neat. I think it will be well-received by students.”
Jeff Hayes, a theater performance major, plays the role of Black Dog, the Ukrainian biker who is after Shedevil.
“We’ve done a lot of interesting things with it, and I think, unique tastes on certain things,” he said. “Not the normal, straight-laced play that people see – it’s very, very light-hearted and funny.”
Along with four of the other actors in this play, Hayes appeared in Romeo and Juliet last spring, making the cast largely familiar with one another.
“The chemistry was already there from the get-go,” he said.
Mann expects the play to be taken just as jovially as its offbeat characters and mocking script.
“This is not a play that is intended to make you think. This play is intended to have you come in and get really involved and just laugh your butt off for two hours,” said Mann. “That is all I want.”
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage will continue production June 21 through June 24, and tickets are $6 for students and $12 for adults. For more information, visit artsmart.usf.edu.