When I climb into the saddle, I’m expecting an exciting ride, so it’s always disappointing when it turns out that the horse I’m sitting on is too tired to trot. This is the feeling that I got while sitting through The Real Adventures of Tom Mix, a play with all the trappings of a wild west show, but which turned out to be no more exciting than a rocking horse round-up. When I read the program, I got all excited. TRATM tells the story of the great grandfather of the playwright, Kelli Biggs. She had collected correspondences and information about her relative who was one of the first stars of the Silent Western. Now how could that make for anything but an exciting fringe show? And yet somewhere between the source text and the stage, the cattle broke out of the coral and ran away, and there was no cowboy/action hero present to wrangle them back up.
Much of the play’s downfall was in Jack Tomalis’s lackluster performance as the title character. It often seemed as though the text was a bull, chasing him around the stage. He was never quite able to wrangle that bull, and he certainly did not ride it. His pacing seemed forced, and his delivery was unconvincing. I was never able to really see him as this rustler turned movie star. The text was often wistful – an old cowboy looking back on his life – but his presentation was flat and free from the fondness that the writing would seem to imply. And this is not to say that the writing was that inventive either. It was often overwhelmingly clichéd, with lines like “I sure have come a long way from those early days”. It seemed notably modern, and it was difficult to figure out where in his life Mix was reflecting from and why he was looking back. The story wandered aimlessly, touching on what sounded like interesting ideas in passing and then dwelling on stories that lacked power or passion. And so we sat through a rodeo with interesting events, but with a team who was not up to the task.
This was not the bull ride I was hoping for, it was more like sheep herding. I was so excited for what could have some really interesting story telling, but instead it was like watching a kid ride the penny mechanical horse at the grocery store.
Josh wites a blog about inexpensive DC arts and culture: www.districtbeat.com. Check it out.
More Fringe reviews here.