Mention Quince Productions, and most Philadelphia theatergoers think of GayFest!, Quince's annual carnival of gay-themed plays, dance, comedy, cabaret and more. GayFest! will return for the sixth year this August, and Quince usually performs one or two other gay-oriented plays each year as well. But this month, for the first time, Quince has strayed from obviously gay fare for Rodeo, a family-friendly, hour-long musical comedy.
Rodeo’s playwright, Philip Dawkins, also wrote The Homosexuals (which Quince produced) and Failure: A Love Story (performed in Philadelphia by Azuka Theatre Company), plays in which his whimsical side is somewhat tempered — unlike Rodeo, which is stuffed with unabashed silliness.
Rodeo is openly corny, but with a big heart and positive themes. Jenna Pinchbeck shines as Cody, a cowgirl who became a rodeo champ with her trusty mule Sprezzatura (played by the droll Dexter Anderson) and hopes to found "a school for misunderstood cowgirls."
Cody wants to enter the tiny Copeland annual rodeo, only to suffer rejection because she's a girl. "Find your way to a bar of soap and some hair ribbons," she's advised by the handsome local rodeo star, Cab (Michael E. Manley). So Cody does what any Shakespearean heroine would do: She disguises herself as a boy — and her mule as a horse. "We're going to pretend to be something we're not to prove that we're more than we seem," he wisely notes. (Shakespeare jokes abound throughout Rodeo, as added delight for anyone familiar with the Bard).
Cab welcomes his new rival but pines for that feisty girl who was turned away. Cody’s impenetrable disguise (a big handlebar moustache) leaves him just as bereft as Orlando in As You Like It, with one exception: Instead of leaving love poems on trees, Cab brands them on horses. Then Cody in disguise (as "Cody" — it can be a boy's or girl's name, she points out) teaches Cab to dance, much as Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede in As You Like It, teaches Orlando how to woo.
A strong supporting cast adds to the silliness, led by Katherine Perry in multiple roles as a cowboy troubadour, an angry bull, and a befuddled horse. Nadiya Jackson, Madalyn St. John, and Ben Deivert play townspeople and horses. (Dawkins articulates the equine point of view humorously, but with wisdom too). Thomas-Robert Irvin mangles Macbeth as Cab's evil nemesis, Crusty Sidetrick, and almost ruins the rodeo and Cab and Cody's growing affection — but cowboy heroics save the day.
Director Rich Rubin keeps the action brisk and broad, assisted by Anthony Palumbo's colorful set and Admiral Grey's suitably simple and clever costumes; the whole show resembles a school play, which feels right. Dawkins's gentle yet clear message of gender equality is clearly represented by Cody's positive perseverance and Pinchbeck's winning smile, and a good time is had by all.
What, When, Where
Rodeo. By Philip Dawkins; Rich Rubin directed for Quince productions. Through April 23, 2016 at Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia. quinceproductions.com.