“We need more blood packets!” a crew member yelled across the room before the production of Gulch began. After hearing this, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed.
Gulch, which runs at Shanley Pavilion this weekend, stages for its audience a battle for the universe, set in a saloon in the dustier parts of late 19th-century America. The western, written by Communication senior Chris Wade and produced by Vertigo Productions, tells the story of a quartet of train-robbing bandits holed up in a bar after their plot went horribly awry. It’s a hostage situation, but the hostages seem to exercise more control over the bandits than vice-versa.
Indeed, the employees of the establishment are more than they seem at first glance, adding a broader second storyline that becomes more important than first as the play progresses. This is not your average western; it’s also a metaphysical drama. Within this framework, the play’s dialogue remains convincingly of the period, and the nuances with which Aaron Eisenberg’s bartender speaks rope us in. Add in grandiose exhortations and the desperadoes’ frantic bickering, and speech becomes a key element.
As intelligent as it may be, however, Gulch doesn’t disappoint in the action department. Over the course of the play we see knives, fists, and revolvers aplenty, and the first act ends with blood, booze, and broken glass on the bar room floor. The show’s climax features a good old-fashioned bar fight, complete with head slams and the employment of a stool that deviates from its intended purpose. The venue, Shanley, lends itself to a play set in a saloon, easily taking on the atmosphere of the bar.
The curious cast of characters is essential to the effectiveness of the show. The bartender (Eisenberg) and the prostitute (played by Blake McKay) that he employs for his customers are fountains of competitive energy, and they are more than the mere humans they appear to be. Michael Medford, who spends the majority of his time onstage either writing in pain or slumped over as a corpse, snivels quite realistically. But by far the show’s most notable performance is Tucker May’s portrayal of El Cid, a crazy son of a gun who acts as an agent of chaos. May moves and speaks with a belligerent but playful swagger, adding an element of absurdism. Each actor displays a different type of intensity, which results in a stage full of exactly the kind of tension that a drama-loving audience will lap up.
Gulch, with a run-time of just an hour, would be great if you’re craving a dose of thinking-man’s theatre this weekend. It’s a great performance with the charm of a bygone era, a gripping plot, and enough symbolism to satisfy without getting too heavy.