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INTRIGUING PRISON DRAMA WITH A TWIST

A telephone conversation plays out in the dark. 18-year-old Carl Brant is on the line to the authorities. Carl has just shot and murdered two people in his own home - his mother and a police officer. When asked why he did it, Carl suggests that he might be "evil".

When the lights come on, the police officer's young widow is staring at a picture of her late husband. It's been five years since he was killed, and a date has just been set for Carl's execution. Whatever about the way Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe's Death Row Cowboy plays out from here, that is some opener.

There are two sides to this intriguing prison drama. The first concerns itself with the loss suffered by Hillary Reece (Clara Harte), who hasn't yet figured out the real reason behind her husband's murder.

She gets regular visits from Robert 'Bobby' Brewer (Mark McCabe), a prison guard (or glorified mail man) at the Oklahoma facility in which Brant (Andrew Lynch) awaits his fate. Indeed, the Irish playwrights have cast themselves in the lead roles. Risky move - luckily, it works out.

Bobby is infatuated with Hillary. He pays off a team of crooked construction workers to fix up her porch. In one of the stranger, ill-advised scenes that Death Row Cowboy has to offer, Bobby also dreams up a Street Fighter-esque fantasy where he beats the crap out of said construction workers before taking Hillary in his arms (chuck that one, lads).

But worst of all, Bobby has been forging letters to Hillary, claiming they are from Carl. Who, incidentally, bears none of the characteristics of a cold-blooded murderer.

AMBITIOUS

We'll jump back and forth from prison corridors to Hillary's house as this ambitious spectacle works its way towards a grim finale.

It's a determined if somewhat flawed presentation. Naturally, Lynch and McCabe work very well together, and the play is at its best when inmates hang over balconies, singing, arguing and discussing life outside those county bars. A cage-like theatre space, this unique setting was made to host a project such as this.

Granted, the playwrights can't help but borrow from their influences (there's more than a touch of Stephen King in there), and the final act loses the run of itself slightly as the boys pile on a forced and rather implausible twist.

Nevertheless, director Gary Duggan crafts an unsettling and eerily atmospheric offering - and a fairly well-acted one, at that.

Harte's Hillary is impressive, too (though 
her animated monologue doesn't quite blend with Death Row Cowboy's real-life setting), 
and Gerard Byrne is on hand to provide 
solid support as Carl's harmonica-playing 
prisoner buddy.

Clever stuff, even if it could do with a few adjustments.

Running until August 23


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