"It's not an easy play," says Esther Jun, who directs Cowboy Mouth, opening Wednesday at the Cameron House. "It's loud, it's a little bit obnoxious, and it's not a simple story by any means." Jun, who theatregoers might remember for her role in Kim's Convenience, is not complaining, mind you. Loud and obnoxious might be her prescription for the Toronto theatre scene.
Jun is the co-artistic director of Heart in Hand Theatre that mounts the raw drama, written in 1971 by Sam Shepard and the punkster-poet Patti Smith. The pair were having a tumultuous affair when they wrote the short, semi-autobiographical two-hander, passing a typewriter back and forth to each other in the apartment they briefly shared. According to Jun, the production involves a lot of screaming, which she sees as a sort of "emotional purging" not often seen on the stage. "I think people want likable characters that are are easy to understand, so people leave the theatre thinking 'Oh, that was nice,'" she says. "But Cowboy Mouth is not that kind of show."
The play stars indie singer-songwriter Jason Collett and Jessica Huras, Heart in Hand's other artistic director. Collett's involvement in what Jun describes as a "rock 'n' roll play" is important, in that it draws music fans to a different live discipline. "We need to grow audiences, and if Jason's involvement brings in people who don't normally see theatre, that's a major coup for us," she says. As for the first-time thespian's comfort level, Jun says Collett easily slid into the role originated by Shepard. "Performance is performance."
That performance needn't be categorized, that's something of a motto for Heart in Hand, dedicated to challenging traditional theatre audiences and bringing in new ones. The edgy Shepard-Smith piece suits its purpose – now it's time for Toronto to cowboy up.