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Riding the Bull
by August Schulenburg

Production photo

A scene from the original production of Riding the Bull

Author: August Schulenburg

Description: A love affair between a devout rodeo clown and a hell-raising rancher leads to Graceland, prophetic sex, and cows that rise from the dead.

Year Written/Copyrighted: 2007
Date Added: 6/15/2011
Content Advisory: Sexual content, violence, strong language
Keywords: Characters are Mostly Young Adults · Philosophy · Religion and Spirituality · Small Cast Size
2 Acts, 130 Minutes
1 Female, 1 Male

NOTE: Riding the Bull is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to

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From the Author:

Riding the Bull is the first of my plays to deal with sexual obsession through an unreliable narrator, a theme and device I've returned to frequently (Other Bodies, Denny and Lila, Perse). It also the first play that wrestles with faith, a struggle that continues through plays like Good Hope and The Hand That Moves. It may be the first play I completed entirely in my own voice, as previous plays like Carrin Beginning owed much to O'Neill and Shakespeare.

And yet, for all that, it was written long enough ago to feel like another world. Perhaps because I've seen several versions of the roles now, GL and Lyza feel like separate entities with their own agency. When a recent production created a Facebook page for Lyza, it somehow seemed completely natural.

Because ultimately this is not a play about obsession and faith; it is a play about GL and Lyza, two undoubtedly eccentric but undeniable whole human beings, and a production of this play only works if their humanity is at the center. The play may be obscene and ridiculous; it may conjure both kitschy and elemental extremes; but it lives or dies in the honesty of the actors.

Lyza is also the first character to go beyond me in understanding; her second act monologue remains a step or two ahead of me in compassing the world. GL is trapped by the play, and so is doomed to repeat his actions over and over, in a form of theatrical purgatory. Lyza's understanding transcends it, and there are parts of her I can't fully fathom.

Which is as it should be; after all, this is also a play about walking further down the hallway of another soul than you've ever dared walk before. So come on in, but be careful which door you open.

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Original Production Information

Riding the Bull was first presented by Flux Theatre Ensemble, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival in 2007 at CSV Cultural and Educational Center, with the following cast and credits:

GL Mitchell: Will Ditterline
Lyza Mary: Liz Dailey

Director: Kelly O’Donnell
Light Design: Jason Paradine
Costume Design: Liz Dailey
Sound Design: Matt Given
Set Design: Jason Paradine
Prop Design: Tiffany Clementi
Stage Manager: Heather Cohn and Jessica Felix
Music by Gary Keenan with the American String Conspiracy

Review by Pete Boisvert

Plays focusing on religious faith and devotion and their place in our world often fall into one of two camps. Either they become bogged down in the seriousness of the weight of their subject, or they madly tear down sacred cows in an attempt to offend and shock us. Flux Theatre Ensemble's production of August Schulenburg's Riding the Bull finds the sweet spot between cynicism and piety, giving us a stunningly imaginative comedy that never loses sight of its own heart.

Gaylord Mitchell, or GL as he prefers to be called, is a Catholic rodeo clown in the small, primarily Baptist town of Godsburg, Texas. A sweet, slightly naïve soul, he's perpetually wracked with guilt about his sinful temptations (primarily involving his collection of Sears & Roebucks catalogues). When GL is "tempted" in the confessional at church, he is promptly excommunicated.

In order to win his way back into the good graces of the Church, GL seeks out Fat Lyza, a rude, foul-tempered, and sacrilegious girl, in order to accuse her of the vandalizing the town's nativity scene. Lyza is a caustic individual who holds the world at arms length; early in the play she declares "I don't lie; the truth is better for pissing people off."

GL and Lyza bicker and fight, but eventually end up going for a (literal) roll in the hay. As they reach climax, Lyza screams out another man's name—and the next day that man wins the rodeo competition. Each time they "tempt" each other, another winning bull rider is revealed, and soon GL is wagering on the rodeo and amassing a small fortune.

GL soon becomes the richest man in town, buying "recommunication" from the Church as well as cars, toys, and much of the town's property. Lyza has spent much of the play questioning his religious zeal, but as he revels in his wealth she realizes that he has merely replaced one form of fanaticism with another. As GL's greed becomes his dominant drive Lyza begins experiencing religious visions, causing the two characters to trade perspectives and roles.

With only two actors onstage for the entirety of the play and a dense, monologue driven script, there is a danger of the production disappearing into its own navel. Kelly O'Donnell's direction avoids this pitfall masterfully, keeping the audience constantly engaged in the emotional and religious journeys of GL and Lyza. Jason Paradine's set is a boon to the play as well. The action of the play is contained in a small fenced-in corral, dominated by a gigantic faux marble statue of Jesus, and every prop that is used in the show is laid out around the edges from the first moment of the play.

Will Ditterline plays GL as a lanky mama's boy, uncomfortable in his own body. Ditterline's timing is precise throughout, as he deftly shifts back and forth between broad, cartoonish humor and bittersweet introspection and guilt. As Fat Lyza, Liz Dailey is a hoot. She insults, curses, and eats her way through the play, nailing Schulenburg's loopy humor throughout. Unfortunately, Lyza's path from the profane to the sacred is less fully realized than GL's movement in the other direction, although whether this problem originated in the script, direction or acting is unclear.

Schulenburg's writing is impressive throughout. The play is thickly layered, while never getting bogged down in its material. Schulenburg's tackles so many issues here that it feels like the play should collapse under its own weight, and yet it never does. For all of its broad, surreally comic moments, it's the sweet sincerity of the script that stays with the audience in the end.

reviewed at the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival

Excerpt from Riding the Bull


People are strange. They’re like hallways, you know? You walk in an’ they got all them sweet pictures hangin’; like their parents, kids, some mountain range, some paintin’ of a horse, some Bible quote like, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world an’ lose his own soul?”, nice, things, pleasant; an’ with most people, that’s as far as you get, all you see. But there’s a door, opens up into another hallway, an’ maybe they don’t let many folks in, ‘cause they got a mustache penciled on their Momma, or devil horns on their Dad, an’ no mountains but a desert with a thirsty horse crossin’ it, an’ some-not-so-nice Bible quote like, “If you ain’t for me, you’re against me”; so you turn right around an’ spend your time in the first hall, where’s it’s pleasant an’ nice; but there’s more doors, more hallways after that, an’ maybe with your wife or best buddy you get deeper in to where they cross out their folks in red magic marker an’ quote reads somethin’ from Job or Revelations, like “Behold a pale horse, an’ his name that sat on him was Death”; but the doors keep comin’, halls you don’t walk, not even in yourself; halls where your Daddy’s ripped from the wall an’ your Momma’s young an’ beautiful an’ does not know you an’ the moon is blood an’ the sun is black an’ a pale horse rides an’ the quote ain’t from no Bible but one of them devil-songs played backwards, “Paul is Dead, Judas Priest, I am the Walrus!

No, you better stay in that front hall, right by the door to the outside.

But you get curious.