Bull busters


Wranglers is a pretty darned good effort from local writer and actor Bryon Burruss. The play follows three veteran rodeo-circuit riders, two still active bull riders and one older fellow previously injured and reduced to being a “bull fighter"—basically, a rodeo clown sans make-up, who distracts bulls when there’s an injured man down. We see the trio through the eyes of “not 21” Tyler (Matt Hammonds), a young rodeo fan who, after he attempts helping the bull-thrown Toby (Jeremy Votava), earns the nickname “Doc” and is taken under the collective wing of Toby and his fellow bull-buster, the sartorial Cody (Callen Reece). What follows, on the surface, seems to be an amusing coming of age story; what results both defies and embraces convention and cliché.

Hammonds is likable and effective as young Tyler. He projects his character’s intelligence and naïveté almost off-handedly. He is believably impressed when Toby explains how a championship buckle can act as an ID when he’s carded or as a “buckle bunny” magnet when suitably displayed. As Toby, the lucky-charm-obsessed rider with a losing streak only slightly greater than his optimism, Jeremy Votava brings a palpable high energy and good-naturedness. In some respects, Votava’s character comes off as even more naïve than Hammonds’ (we learn he’s never had a girlfriend). And he’s more likable for it.

As Jake, the ever-silent, stern-faced, wounded rodeo vet reduced to dodging horns for a living, Slim Barkowska is hilarious. It actually takes great effort to elicit laughs while seemingly doing nothing. Barkowska’s stone-faced takes just about rival Buster Keaton’s a couple of times here. And when his character does finally speak, he offers stoic and pointed wisdom in the form of jokes.

Cody is easily the best role I’ve ever seen Callen Reece in. He is completely believable as the style-conscious, bunny-banging cowboy. One of the most amusing sequences is where Cody instructs the eager-to-learn Toby in the art of picking up women; Reece’s reactions (a gentle roll of the eyes, a slight sarcastic grin) to Toby’s misinterpretations are perfect.

Joe Hilsee’s direction is seamless. The whole thing feels like a self-enclosed universe that, over the course of 90 minutes, the audience feels part and parcel of. The set is effective and the costumes accurate. Hats off to the sound and light crew, as well: Opening night, tech seemed flawless.

So, rustle up a passel o’ tickets and mosey on down to the Blue Room Corral. You’ll be mighty glad you did, pardners.