The subject matter has inspired memorable films such as Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw(1943), Gore Vidal and Arthur Penn’s The Left Handed Gun (1958), Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), John Fusco’s Young Guns (1988) and its 1990 sequel. Mr. Cissel’s treatment is a turgid exercise with little action and lots of leaden talk.
It’s New Mexico in 1881, and during a series of short scenes, Billy contemplates his life. His stern mother, rough father, stalwart girlfriend and his sly pursuer, Sheriff Pat Garrett, all periodically appear. The dialogue is stiff, lofty, peppered with profanity and doesn’t impart much biographical details.
Alexander Woodward’s scenic design is a beautiful composition of layered rocks and blades of grass on the floor with a vintage lantern laying around. The back wall of the stage is adorned with weathered, wooden slats. It’s all an entrancing atmosphere that aids the production immensely.
Faced with staging such a static work, director Gabriel Vega Weissman does achieve as much spatial and visual variety as possible. The actors are precisely positioned and starkly lit as if in an otherworldly hearing, as Billy interacts with his deceased parents. Mr. Weissman’s crucially obtains fine performances from the cast.
Slightly scruffy, the plainspoken, appealing and youthful Brendan Dooling brings energy and pathos to the central role of the angst-ridden Billy. The charismatic John Clarence Stewart’s joyous characterization of Pat Garrett adds a needed, delightful lightness to all the solemnity.
With the flair of a John Ford pioneer woman, Sally Ann Triplett makes a vivid impression as Catherine, Billy’s strong mother. In addition to cheerfully embracing the bonhomie of Billy’s father McCarty, Mark Elliot Wilson has several moving emotional exchanges. Meredith Antoian charmingly portrays Billy romantic interest Louisa.
Rumbling throughout the production is moody, electronic incidental music ably rendered by Emma Wilk’s sound design. This in tandem with Zach Blane’s eerie lighting design of primarily smoky dimness creates the desired etheral dimension.
Costume designer Brooke Cohen Brown has assembled an array of authentic western ware that authentically represents all of the characters.
Born in Manhattan, New York City, in 1859, Henry McCarty moved with his widowed mother and younger brother to Indiana, and then in 1870, to Kansas. After his mother’s remarriage, the family moved to the New Mexico territory. It was there, after his mother’s death in 1874, that he began a life of crime and along the way became known as The Outlaw Billy the Kid. He was captured and escaped in 1880, and was shot to death by Pat Garrett who eventually collected a bounty totaling $7500 in 1881.
Must freshly takes a potentially compelling cerebral and psychological approach in depicting the tale but is decidedly unsatisfying. Bruce Willis is prominently credited as a presenter of the show.
Must (through November 19, 2017)
Bruce Willis and The Burgess Group
The Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.musttheplay.com
Running time: one hour with no intermission