Stranger,” a Spaghetti Western with songs, has the visceral kick and grungy, lived-in feel of a Sergio Leone classic. It would be easy to parody the genre, but co-writers Eva Anderson and Keythe Farley play it straight and manage to pull it off with a story that’s genuinely surprising and compelling. The world premiere production at the Bootleg Theater rocks, from Farley’s inspired direction to Anthony Bollas’ appropriately thunderous music to skilled actors who tear into their roles with violent gusto.
In 1847 in the small Nevada town of San Lorenzo, the evil Lagarto (Michael Dunn) and his men have killed the sheriff and kidnapped his daughter Lucinda (Molly O’Neill), and they’re gradually grinding the town into the dust. Local saloon owner Miranda (Ann Closs-Farley) and the Padre (Joe Hernandez-Kolski) try to persuade the townspeople to fight back, but it’s futile. One day, however, the Stranger (Cameron Dye), a quiet man with lethal gun-slinging skills, wanders into town. When Lagarto attacks the town to find Lucinda’s hidden inheritance, the haunted Stranger decides to rejoin the living and defend the people of San Lorenzo.
Dunn plays the over-the-top Lagarto with enthusiastic vigor; he’s an amiable villain highly amused with his deeds. Dunn also cracks a whip pretty well. Closs-Farley seems to be channeling some cross between Barbara Stanwyck and Mae West as the hard-bitten Miranda, and she’s wryly effective in the role. O’Neill brings a feral intensity to Lucinda that ups the dramatic stakes of the play, and her final moments in the show are satisfyingly iconic. Hernandez-Kolski is tough, convincingly intelligent and memorably charismatic in the complicated role of the Padre. Dye plays the Stranger, a man who deals death but wants only to die himself, with a shell-shocked weariness; the actor’s low-key recounting of the Stranger’s tragic past is a dramatic highlight. Finally, the members of the five-person ensemble who round out the cast are excellent in multiple roles.
Farley’s direction excels in the bloody business of the genre, from a nifty hat being shot off a villain’s head bit to any number of sanguinary knifings, but he also succeeds in the quiet moments. Anderson and Farley’s writing is funny (“All God’s children are welcome — why are you here?”) and ultimately moving, and their plot is as twisty and vicious as an angry rattlesnake.
Bollas’ music is appropriately evocative of Ennio Morricone’s film scores, both in bravado and in subtlety, and the band is superb. They were, however, also so loud that few of the lyrics could be made out in the opening song. Closs-Farley’s costumes are richly detailed, and Victor Warren’s fight choreography is exciting and brutally efficient. Francois-Pierre Couture’s painted wooden slat backdrop set of a town in permanent shadow combines wonderfully with Dan Weingarten’s dramatic lighting and Rebecca Kessin’s dense sound design to vividly create the dry and dusty setting.