Riding the Bull

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
This play is in the following collections: FringeNYC 2007
2 Acts, 130 Minutes
1 Female, 1 Male
Read an excerpt

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 gus@fluxtheatre.org.

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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.

More Plays by August Schulenburg:

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

ITN 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

ITN Review by Saviana Stanescu

I first encountered Chiori Miyagawa’s beautiful play This Lingering Life two years ago, attending a staged reading produced by The Civic Ensemble, imaginatively directed by Norm Johnson. The intermingled stories/characters crossing times and geographies haunted me for a while with their strange, tragic, humorous and appealing undertones. The play enjoyed its world premiere at Z Space in San Francisco last June where The San Francisco Examiner called it “a funny, wise, philosophical and thought-provoking puzzle.” Moreover, it is a Theatre Bay Area inaugural Awards finalist.

Cake Productions has produced this New York premiere of the “epic comedy with grave tragedies” under the energetic directorial wand of Cat Miller. It is a shorter version of the play, infused with the hectic pace of modern-day life.

In This Lingering Life, Chiori Miyagawa re-mixes and re-imagines nine 14th-century Japanese Noh plays. The ghosts, warriors, mad women, angels and demons of the oldest form of living theatre – Noh – are getting fresh dramatic reincarnations in contemporary and timeless situations.

A Woman with Tragic Hair (the fascinating Meg MacCary) wanders in “bardo”, an in-between space between the dead and the living, or an intermediate/liminal state between two lives, that might be inhabited by all characters. The bizarre woman’s hair grows upwards and she is not sure whether she is the narrator or not. By the end of the play we figure out that she is indeed a compelling if not fully reliable narrator.

For those who don’t know much about Noh theatre, here are some basic things to start with: The aesthetics of Noh derive from the Buddhist emphasis on Zen, or contemplation, aiming to induce YUGEN (grace), a mood or state of mind responsive to the mysterious and transitory beauty of the performance. Noh plays are not driven by the cause-effect narrative logic of Western drama but typically centered on scenes of revelation that climax in the main actor's principal dance. A Noh play should “evoke the flower,” as Zeami – Noh’s main theorist and playwright - named the fusion of esthetic, spiritual and moral beauty arising from the performance. The slow and ceremonial movement was brought to perfection in decades as the training of a Noh actor in the 14th century was supposed to be lifelong.

Time and place fold and collapse into each other in Chiori Miyagawa’s fluid play, as she manages to paradoxically preserve and challenge the Noh influences.

This Lingering Life explores the enigmatic human condition through the Buddhist concept of Karma, revealing ancient longings and complex e-motional dynamics.

The play interweaves the journeys of feudal warriors, mystical gangsters, sane and insane mothers, a blind beggar, an angel on roller-skates, an old gardener, lovers born to enemy houses, and other sentient beings as they intersect in the labyrinth of human existence.

The cast of 10 play various roles in intriguing cross-gender/cross-race/defy-expectations interpretations meant to suggest that we are all different yet the same as we share the tragic-comic essence of humanity. They all create compelling characterizations. I was especially impressed by the versatility and nuanced performances of Vanessa Kai (Mystical Gangster, Crazy Woman, Old Gardner), Luke Forbes (Gangster on the Run, Boy, Princess, Backpacker 2), Francesca Day (Wife, Young Gardener’s Girlfriend), Amir Darvish (Son, Warrior’s Mother, Newcomer), William Franke (Backpacker 1, Young Gardener, Father) and Stephanie Weeks (Young Warrior, Angel, Single Mother, Secretary).

Chiori Miyagawa, a Japanese-born playwright based in NYC, started adapting Noh plays out of “an imaginary obligation to pay homage to the culture”. The result is much more than a tribute to a cultural heritage. It is refreshing to see a show that challenges mainstream naturalistic Western theatre in a playful, witty and meaningful way, exposing our lingering sense of global inter-connection.

(Sep 24, 2014)