As a child, William/Billy plays Cowboys and Indians, takes great pride in his cowboy hat, and wants to grow up to become a cowboy like John Wayne, partly because his father nicknames him ‘the midnight cowboy’. At twenty-nine, William is a self-loathing workaholic who drinks a litre of vodka per night in order ‘to cope’ and has no time for his family. There is very little heroism about him, and the only midnight ventures of this once-aspiring cowboy are the walks of shame that follow many hollow one-night stands.
Actor and Honest Arts Production Company’s artistic director Pius McGrath shines in this solo show about a man whose life takes a disappointing turn. Whatever character McGrath plays, he does so convincingly and with remarkable skill. However, this talented actor, whose physicality makes the show quite special, is let down by his script which is lacklustre at best and banal at worst.
If the text aims at commenting upon the miserable lifestyle of today’s average young professional, it does so without wit or insight. If it aims at narrating the story of a young man who fails to live up to his male role models, it is not clear why anyone should care about this particular character. The only truly touching scenes are those where young Billy hides and runs on stage like his idol John Wayne. However, rather than shed a nostalgic light on Billy’s joyless adult life, these scenes highlight the drabness of the rest of the play, as we cease to feel for and with William once he steps out of teenage and into adult life. Which is a shame, because McGrath surely has the charisma and talent to keep the audience hooked throughout a one-hour show.
Despite an unremarkable script, The Mid-Knight Cowboy is a fine example of what theatre can do with only a few props and sound effects. McGrath only had to change hats and respond to some foley effects to convey a large array of scenarios and characters. The intimate, humble quality of the play is also aided by the small auditorium in which the show is taking place over the festival, which limits the stage to a small square with the audience sitting on two sides and leaning in to grasp all the nuances of McGrath’s performance.
Pius McGrath is a performer worth keeping an eye on: if given better scripts, I believe he has all the potential to be an outstanding actor. So I hope to see him again on stage. Only in better roles.