This is the final weekend of performances of Coyote, a seat-gripper of a play at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park. Nouveau 47, the little troupe modeling itself on the Margo Jones theater company of 60 years ago, premieres Kevin Kautzman's excellent script, which had its first reading here last year.
It's a danderoo of a play, with the dark comedy of a Coen brothers film and just enough unexpected violence to make you flinch and giggle. Directed by Donny Covington, the production stars Art Peden and Stephen Witkowicz (younger brother of established Dallas actor Brian). Their red-hot performances will keep you guessing right to the end about which of their characters is really the good guy and which is the villain.
Coyote starts with new pals Luke (Witkowicz) and Vince (Peden) already seated in the rusty red truck parked center stage. The younger Luke has joined grizzled Vince on overnight patrol on the Arizona border. One of those Minuteman militia groups has paired the men as lookouts charged with trying to capture illegals as they straggle across the desert into the US.
On their first long night together, the men trade life histories. Luke says he's "in real estate." Vince is a widower with a strong thirst for the whiskey he sucks out of the flask that's always in his pocket. Vince believes in the Rothschild conspiracy, the Illuminati and other fringe-y rightwing ideas. To test Luke's loyalty to the "white pride" movement, Vince makes the young man repeat racial slurs. It's a one-man hazing to make sure Luke's not some plant from the FBI. "We watch the border for Jesus," says Vince. And for the chance to shoot Mexicans, or whatever other sentient beings wander into range.
At the tail end of the fast first act of Coyote, there's a turn in the plot. It's a small gesture, a throwaway line by one of the characters that flips the whole scenario upside down. Good guy, bad guy. They're not what they seem at all.
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The action-packed second half of the play introduces a third character. The phrase "Mexican standoff" is taken literally. That's all I'll tell you without venturing into spoiler territory. It's all just too good to give away.
Coyote is a terrific evening of theater, full of big laughs (both at and with the characters) and deliciously tense turnarounds. All the performances are tight, particularly Peden's as the tough-talking old Vince. He's not someone you'd want to take a road trip with, but two hours with him and that red truck in this play make for a thrilling ride.
Coyote continues through February 11 at Nouveau 47 at the Magnolia Theatre. Call 214-674-1702 or to to www.nouveau47.com.