‘Always pursue freedom’: Wirtz Center premieres ‘Late, A Cowboy Song’


Photo courtesy of Pete Brace

As part of the MFA Collaboration Series, “Late, A Cowboy Song” tells the story of a woman searching for liberation and self-discovery.

Annie Xia, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Kelsey Ervi discovered “Late, A Cowboy Song” as an undergraduate at Baylor University in a book of collected plays.

More than a decade later, they will direct the play as a student in Northwestern’s MFA theatre program this weekend at the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

“When I read it, it really stayed with me. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to get to work on this,’” Ervi said. “I’ve been existing and mulling around the atmosphere of the play for a long time.”

“Late, A Cowboy Song” tells the story of Mary as she searches for freedom and self-discovery. Her and her husband have been together since they were 8 years old, but after befriending a female cowboy, Mary’s world expands and her marriage starts to crack.

As a queer, non-binary director, Ervi said they feel a strong connection to the gender themes that frequently appear throughout the story. They said they feel represented by how the cowboy’s character does not fall inside the rigid binary structure.

“All of a sudden, we’re subverting this traditionally only male-identifying image into something of our own,” Ervi said. “It’s sexy and funny, and I think that subversion is a big part of what the playwright is exploring.”

As part of the MFA Collaboration Series, the play heavily involves graduate students both frontstage and backstage. Along with the scene, costume and lighting designers, Ervi said the group of four MFA students have been working on the project since fall 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, actors didn’t join the process until Winter Quarter.

Emiley Kiser, the NU graduate student who plays Mary, said the cast never knows which time might be its last chance to perform together. In-person rehearsals and performances have been a gift because of the crucial role physical proximity plays in theatre, she said.

“There’s a certain level of communication that I miss out on when I’m not breathing the same air as the other person,” Kiser said. “An amazing gift theatre gives you that you don’t necessarily get from movies or TV is you come to be transformed.”

Fanis Gkikas, who plays Mary’s husband, said he hopes the show will nudge people to reflect on their relationships. Gkikas said that although his character loves Mary, the husband controls Mary in a claustrophobic way.

Gkikas jokingly suggested people use “Late, A Cowboy Song” as a hashtag if they break up from a harmful relationship after the play.

“We can be in a toxic relationship and might not even know it,” Gkikas said. “We deserve to be free, and we should always pursue freedom.”

In their director’s note, Ervi said they see “Late, A Cowboy Song” as a story for people who think they are unworthy of changing their lives. They hope the play reaches hearts that have outgrown their current situations.

Ervi said they want audience members to leave the show thinking about what directions they want to take their lives in.

“I hope they walk away with that question inside of them: ‘What is the thing I’m ready to walk into?’” Ervi said. “‘Am I ready to take that big step? Because I think I am.’”

The shows will take place on Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

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