by Kacey Stamats · August 14, 2014
We know from the postcard and the program that something bad will happen in Switch Back. Of course it is likely to fall on the main character, Maryclare, a cute 20-year-old from the East Coast on her way to an adventure in Wyoming. What’s surprising, and refreshing about Switch Back is that character, humor, smart writing and realism carry the script for far longer stretches then the inevitable sustained dread and tension. Switch Back, as directed by David Ford, takes its time growing dark. The play morphs seamlessly from a meet-cute, to a sincere love story featuring a charming cowboy, to a dark portrait of small town backwaters to something else entirely.
Maryclare, as played by and written by Maryclare McCauley in this semi-autobiographical show, is new to Wyoming when the play opens. She is young and perhaps naïve but isn’t a total city slicker; she knows her way around horses, and around cowboys. It is easy to be carried away by her performance, but in between the fish-out-of-water chuckles, and starry-eyed wonder are ominous signs. In the play’s first and disarmingly amusing scene her new boss at the ranch, Sandra, tries to explain all the bullet holes in local signs. “You have graffiti in Baltimore? “ Sandra asks. “Well, bullets are our graffiti.”
Switch Back is a solo-performance, and McCauley deserves high praise for her ability to delineate over half a dozen characters, male and female. Even those introduced in broad comedic strokes grow more and more nuanced and recognizably complex as they are revisited. I wish there were a costume designer to credit for her versatile costume choice. Her outfit is country/western enough to seem authentic when she personifies a charming tall half-Indian cowboy, and yet doesn’t distract when she transforms into a bent little old grandma. By the final scenes of the play characters are recognizable in body and gesture before they even speak a word. McCauley’s voice and physicality is that spot on. She navigates a complicated, nuanced story without ever losing her focus or her audience. The writing is crisp, evocative and as delivered by McCauley, often very, very funny.
The set is sparse, a black chair on a black stage, and so a very easy blank canvas for the mind. Under the direction of Ford, McCauley establishes and holds over extended scenes the geography of imagined spaces, absent props in her hands are so real that we know she has returned to a room before explanation just by the way she holds the air to indicate a stack of photographs, or a phone.
I saw this play at its FringeNYC premiere, with a small but engaged audience. There were audible gasps and murmurs as the play climbed towards its climax, and a partial standing ovation after the deeply satisfying finale.