Theatre review: The Chicago Cowboy, Rosemary Branch Theatre, N1

Chicago Cowboy

Chicago Cowboy - Credit: Archant

The Chicago Cowboy is based loosely on the lives of director Leah Townley’s grandparents and scripted by Katherine Pierce.

Amid a backdrop of tea dresses and jazz, we are introduced to protagonist Sam Rosenberg, family man, self-made businessman and self-styled ‘kosher cowboy,’ portrayed by Lloyd Morris as an engaging, cheeky, affable sort. The scene is 1930’s Chicago and Sam has employed a black man from Mississippi, Earl (Marcus Adolphy) as manager of his downtown hotel. Earl clearly has the magic touch and the hotel begins to flourish as fashionistas and high society are drawn to the atmosphere created, in no small part by lobby pianist Joe’s jazzy riffs.

Sam enjoys a happy family life with his wife Doris (Jodyanne Richardson) and daughter Alice (Elisa King). As the play progresses we watch Alice grow from a child to a sophisticated young woman and witness Doris as the loving, supportive wife throughout. Sam also spends time with his rodeo friends, who provide a light-hearted respite from some of the heavier themes. The quartet ensemble cast make excellent work of depicting a number of characters throughout the show and the talented Elisa King proved particularly versatile.

The Chicago Cowboy is hindered by a number of unfinished stories. Sam and Doris try unsuccessfully to help a Jewish family in Europe to escape, lobby pianist Joe leaves to fight in the war; Earl has flashbacks of his struggle as a black man in Mississippi, the Rosenbergs move to a new neighbourhood. However at the same time these snippets provide snapshots that reflect the era and give us a bit more detail about our characters.

At its core, this isn’t a story about post-prohibition race and politics. It’s a story about family, love and friendship. Throughout, the family unit is effectively used to engage the audience and although there does not appear to be any real ‘storyline,’ our eventual familiarity with the characters ensure that the final scenes are heart wrenching and touching to watch. An unexpectedly moving play.

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