South Lakes High School
History repeats itself. Or rather, history mirrors itself. The general course of human life cycles again and again until the end of time. At the heart of Herndon High School's staged performance of Sam Shepard's "Cowboys #2", written in the 1960s as a response to "Waiting for Godot" and similar plays, was the existential and profound exploration of the cycle of life and death.
The play followed two men: Chet (portrayed by Jake Swery) and Stu (Jefferson Escobar Rivera) as they explored different questions pertaining to the existential and complex meaning of life. Ranging from the dangers of diabetes to the joy of breakfast, the questions and situations posed to the two characters accompanied them on their journey through the circle of human life. Also onstage throughout the show were two men resembling Chet and Stu, played by Kobe Rivas Galdamez and Yaliek Miranda respectively. These additional characters completed the multi-dimensional scenes as they played on the stage, sometimes mirroring the characters in the scene, sometimes adding acoustic sound effects to establish the setting, and occasionally staying still and quiet to allow the focus of the scene to be solely on Chet and Stu. In a beautiful ending, the cycle of life was completed, the two sets of men switched places, and began the cycle anew.
The heart of the play lay in Swery's Chet and Rivera's Stu as they built a strong stage presence and two perfectly complementary characters. Rivera quickly established a high-energy, chaotic and slightly somber at times, Stu. Swery characterized Chet well as his character began to come to the forefront of the play; a charismatic, quick to distract, and optimistic (sometimes darkly so) leader. Both actors displayed excellent physicality, removing the need to rely on dialogue alone to understand the progression of the story. In the abstract view of this existential play, Chet symbolized the naivete of life, and Stu the complementary unpredictability of death. The unsung heroes of the show were Miranda and Galdamez's men in the background. The energy of the play was constantly high with the inclusion of these characters, and they provided interesting perspectives on the discussions taking place. Miranda consistently met Rivera's energy and added to it, creating another dimension within the mirrored Stu, a darker, truer depiction of the element of death within the play. Galdamez thrived when creating sound effects live onstage with barrels, a guitar, and sometimes just his feet. Through these sound effects, some scenes were made much more immersive.
The props of the play completed the minimalist wooden set to create a flexible setting in which many different situations could be represented. A guitar could become a rifle in a Cowboy scenario, a hat could be used to carry water as if it were the wild west. The costumes coordinated well, so that Chet and Stu were distinct, but complementary, and the doppelgangers in the background resembled them in costume as well. The lighting, managed by Meena Megahed, added tones of yellow to the not-quite fully lit stage, further establishing the western environment of the play. Isabelle Hollenbeck as an acting coach assisted in the creation of the complex characters onstage. Altogether, the immersive and thought-provoking play was striking and clear.
"Cowboys #2" provided an interesting and approachable take on existentialist theatre. Throughout the ever-changing narrative of the play, the characters and their perspectives were relatable and the overall story remained clear. Overall, Herndon High School's production was beautifully translated onto the modern stage. The overall message of the show does not take much experience with existentialist philosophy to understand: History repeats itself.
H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program
In the desert, two cowboys sit back-to-back near a construction site in the most classic Western way possible, singing a tune. They wait. In reality, they are just passing the time and hoping to evade the decay of human existence by playing at being cowboys and reliving classic Western story archetypes such as stumbling around, desperate for water in the arid, arid desert, and engaging in battles with Native Americans. Little did they know that by fully embodying the spirits of these Wild West men and being absorbed into the desert world, they would actually achieve their initial goal: to live and thrive on their own terms, and die on their own as well. This was Herndon High School's Cowboys #2. Written in 1967, Sam Shepard's Cowboy's #2 was inspired by the likes of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, which was reflected in the themes of existentialism, survival, and the concept of brotherhood.
As Chet (Jake Swery) and Stu (Jefferson Escobar Rivera) traversed their way through the desert, every shift in the conversation was punctuated by a distinct physical action, such as Stu (Jefferson Escobar Rivera) dropping to the ground and giving Chet (Jake Swery) twenty, or the pair falling to the ground to roll around and rejoice in mud, their temporary salvation from death. Their movements, jarring and energetic, primal growls, and parallel blocking to the two men, played by Yaliek Miranda and Kobe Rivas Galdamez, carried the brunt of the story. With the brilliant costuming choice to use bandanas to match Miranda's (Man #1) red bandana to Rivera's (Stu) red and Galdamez's (Man #2) blue bandana to Swery's (Chet) blue, it was evident that on top of embodying the sounds and environment that Chet and Stu had created for themselves, they were the spirits of the two cowboys respectively.
The minimal two benches and two barrels which also cleverly served as storage bins for the men's guitars and weapons, along with the dim, yellow lighting set the stage for the imaginary but structured, barren desert. By overturning the benches and disturbing and ultimately destroying the beautiful and simplistic illusion, Chet and Stu attempted to hold on for dear life. Stu's zest for living and desire to stay optimistic, when directly contrasted to Chet's cynicism was heartbreaking as Stu was the one who fell victim first to the at-first believed to be imaginary Comanche arrow. As the vultures closed in on Chet, and Stu tried to fend them off, we realized what they had already come to know in the study of existentialism: a death on one's own terms is better than a life on everyone else's terms.
Through the howls of living, Herndon High School presented a story of human existence worth watching and re-watching to understand the utter rawness of simply being.