Created by Brian Fidler and Edward Westerhuis. Directed by Jessica Hickman. A Ramshackle Theatre production presented as part of the rEvolver Festival. At the Cultch's Historic Theatre on Friday, May 26. No remaining performances
Careful. Tombstone might give you ideas about those empty boxes in your recycle bin.
Ramshackle Theatre builds a whimsical world of cardboard and aluminum foil in this story of an amusement-park town run by robots. The only humans are the wealthy Boss Man and his daughter, Petal, who dreams of being a rodeo performer but is short one horse and rider. Enter Hank and his mount Rusty, who also narrates the story. Petal and Hank strike up a romance, but things get complicated when a stunt injures Petal and a robot custom-built to care for her turns rebellious.
Tombstone is billed as a western, but, as the synopsis above suggests, Brian Fidler’s script also includes nods to conventions from other genres, notably science fiction.
The star of the show is the staging: almost everything is made of cardboard, from tiny two-dimensional drawings to small puppets to oversized headpieces worn by the performers. The scale is fluid, thanks to two video cameras that zoom in on the models and puppets designed by Edward Westerhuis and operated by Fidler, Claire Ness, Andrea Bols, and Michel Gignac. The performers are constantly in motion, manipulating characters and set pieces that cover the surfaces of three tables.
Inventive staging is the key to some of the play’s most exciting moments: a roller-coaster ride is depicted by cross-fades between one camera, which pans over a tiny model coaster, and another that shows larger puppets bouncing around in its cars. Cinematic techniques like slow motion and close-ups are also playfully re-created. But the story occasionally flags, partly because the exposition isn’t always seamlessly shared between visual action and Rusty’s pre-recorded, aw-shucks narrative voice.
Jordy Walker’s original music is terrific, faithfully evoking the acoustic textures of the classic western. And there’s no denying the originality of this piece. You could stick around afterward for a closer look at the set and puppets—and see the obsessive love that’s been poured into Tombstone.