All the Fame of Lofty Deeds
House Theatre of Chicago

"There are very few good, serious, enjoyable theater pieces about country music.. and this show could well fill a void in New York and beyond" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/17/09


"Show of the Week" - TimeOut Chicago, 11/18/09

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11/12/09 - 12/20/09

Previews 11/12-11/14; Open 11/15
8p Thu-Sat; 7p Sun

'All the Fame of Lofty Deeds' at House Theatre: The music of Jon Langford and the strugges of the last living cowboy - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/16/09 - "At one key point in the House Theatre of Chicago's cheerfully surreal theatricalization of the music and art of Jon Langford, a talking equine weighs in with a question. "How hillbilly are the hillbillies in hillbilly music?" asks the horse.

Now, the interlocutor might look and sound like one of the regulars on the old "Hee Haw" television show, but whether you're talking about country music, pop, rock or rap, that is a very good question. "All the Fame of Lofty Deeds" - inspired by a 2004 Langford solo album of the same name - is penned by Chicago music writer Mark Guarino, a man who obviously knows the horse is homing in on the key question of a majority of the articles ever published in Rolling Stone.


Is the story of popular music really the endlessly repeatable fable of fragile artistic purity exploited by commercial interests so the suits can make a buck? You know, the story that rock journalists and screenwriters are forever condemned to keep rewriting, whatever the changing cast of characters?


Lofty Deeds, the self-declared last living cowboy, the hero of Guarino's very clever and enjoyable show and a grizzled, hard-bitten man staring into a bottle of Jack Daniel's and the mirror of his own obsolescence, gives this one a good think. Finally, as voiced by House marquee talent Nathan Allen, he reaches into his soul and comes up with the only possible answer.  "It's complicated," he says.


Let us stipulate that "Lofty Deeds," which features the music of the founder of the British punk band The Mekons and the Chicago-based punk-country band The Waco Brothers, still needs work. The show has too slow and confused a start, the narrative has meandering stretches, polish has yet to be applied and the surprisingly muted ending lacks the kind of climax that could easily get the room whipped into excitement. I was waiting for a rockabilly megamix that never came.


But I think House Theatre has the best show here since "The Sparrow." No question. The House has got its groove back.  There are very few good, serious, enjoyable theater pieces about country music - especially if you nix all those melodramatic Branson and Pigeon Forge homages - and this show could well fill a void in New York and beyond.


This is a very different kind of jukebox musical. But I think Langford's many fans will immediately sense that this deceptively sophisticated show has deftly caught many of the inspired paradoxes that make up their man: a transplanted Britisher with a cultural affinity for the American badlands; a consummate metaphoric storyteller with a long-established disdain for the music business and a need to peel back the onion and find the folk center of a song.


Not only do Langford's rich songs make up the score, which is a complex pleasure, but Lee Keenan's deliciously vibrant and original visuals are inspired by Langford's own art. This is a show that traffics in archetypes, certainly. What is more archetypal than the story of a washed-up cowboy, flattened by artistic compromises and headed for assisted living? But the artists behind this piece are sophisticated enough to manipulate the archetypes even as they wallow in them. He's certainly too young for the role, but Allen throws himself into Lofty's malaise with a beguiling mixture of sadness and spunk. And time and again, this show finds fresh ways to embody old dichotomies. The record industry is here represented by a many-headed besuited beast; past country greats don't let the frames of their own hall-of-fame portraits stop them from singing; and in the relationship between Lofty and his dear, culturally purer brother Lefty Deeds, subtly played and sung by Patrick Martin, we get a tinge of how success invariably comes with a measure of artistic and personal regret. How can it not?


A singing tumbleweed is embodied with throaty charm by Corri Feuerstein. Lucy Carapetyan is on hand to dance Lofty's vision of loveliness in a dollar dress. And Brandon Ruiter handles the tragic comedy, as fast-food outlets beat back the burning bushes of the West and old cowboys try to climb out of the dust".

Mark Guarino

Tommy Rapley

Nathan Allen; Patrick Martin; Lucy Carapetyan; Brandon Ruiter; Anderson Lawfer; Corri Feuerstein; Matt Bivins; Adam Przybyla; Matt Martin and Evan Bivins.

Director - Tommy Rapley; Asst Director - Aaron Ricciardi; Composer - Jon Langford; Music Director, Band - Andy Wagner; Production Manager - Jeremy Wilson; Asst Production Manager - Deborah Lindell; Stage Manager - Brian DesGranges; Asst Stage Manager - Rachel Levine; Technical Director - Matt Buettner; Master Electrician - Will Dean; Set/Light Designer - Lee Keenan; Light Design Asst - Ashley Hoban; Scenic Design Asst - Claire Paolini; Sound Designer - Brett Masteller; Sound Operator - Kirstin Johnson; Costume Designer - Debbie Baer; Asst Costume Designer - Mieka Van Der Ploeg; Pupper Builder - Bill Dee; Props Master - Bill Anderson; Magic Man - Dennis Watkins; Asst Props Manager - Nick Heggestad; Scenic Artist - Nick Sieben; Photography - Sue Kellerher.

Tags: Theater, American, 2009