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Posted at 4:20 PM ET, 07/20/2009

'Bull': A Wild Ride

By Stephanie Merry
Fringe Festival

It turns out that Sears catalogs can cause real destruction. How else can you explain a devoutly religious rodeo clown's fall from grace?

In "Riding the Bull," one of the Fringe Festival's more captivating shows, the main character's love for the pretty ladies in their Sears' get-ups sets in motion all sorts of sordid events, starting with his excommunication from the Catholic church and ending with his sudden appreciation for a nativity scene that was rearranged into an orgy.

Kate Debelack and Jason McCool star in "Riding the Bull." (Colin Hovde)

If the premise of "Bull" sounds a little off-the-wall, well, it is. But the two-person play proves to be a rewarding, entertaining, occasionally shocking 90 minutes. After all, we can't blame Sears entirely for derailing GL, the former rodeo clown. There's also his girlfriend, Liza, whose post-coital clairvoyance (she shouts out the names of the next day's bull riding champions) makes the pair wealthy almost overnight. Couple their newfound fortune with GL's mommy issues and you can expect a pretty twisted outcome.

It might all seem over-the-top and ridiculous if it weren't for some fantastic performances from two top-notch actors. Jason McCool makes the unlikely seem possible with his turn as GL, a character who goes from earnest to desperate to bovine-icidal. Meanwhile, Kate Debelack takes such a command of the stage as Liza the trouble-making psychic, that it's nearly impossible to take your eyes off her. Neil LaBute fans might also recognize Debelack from her in her stunning, heartbreaking turn in Studio Theatre's "Fat Pig" a few years back.

And there's another gem added to the mix free of charge, which is the musical stylings of the banjo-strumming singer Curtis Eller. Eller prepped the audience with a few pre-show numbers along with a mid-performance interlude. He also occasionally strummed some chords during the action, but his playing left me wanting more. I was hoping Christopher Walken would stride on stage demanding more banjo. Alas, no such luck.

There's more to "Riding the Bull" than a bunch of silliness. What starts out as an off-kilter madhouse of Elvis Presley obsessions, confessions gone disgustingly wrong and cow costumes, ends up in some dark territory. It's unexpected and sometimes even sickening, but that makes the enthralling show all the more memorable.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | July 20, 2009; 4:20 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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