It’s 1871 and a Canadian cattle drover named Bob Hicks is accused of murder in Kansas.
Armed only with his wits, the accused outlaw faces a meeting with frontier justice — Hicks’s cowboy captors want to string him up from a tree limb at Hangin’ Rock.
Can his Canuck smarts save Hicks from death at the hands of American vigilantes? Or are U.S. guns mightier than the Canadian gift for gab?
The answer lies in the play Outlaw, by Norm Foster, which will be staged at the Black Knight dinner theatre starting on Friday, Jan. 8.
The Central Alberta Theatre production not only has a subtext about a cultural clash between nations, it pits a female director, Tara Rorke, against four male community actors.
But Rorke didn’t take any guff from the guy thespians. “I have two female stage managers, so the odds were about even,” she said with a laugh.
Her biggest frustration was getting the four city slickers to sound like authentic cowboys. “The hardest challenge was getting them to speak with bad English,” recalled Rorke, who got the actors to memorize lines containing words like ‘ain’t,’ only to hear them deliver ‘am not.’
Rorke, an animal health technician who grew up on a Saskatchewan grain farm, was familiar enough with the play’s rural references — which made Outlaw a nice transition from the one-act plays that Rorke formerly directed.
Rorke, who has also acted in several CAT vehicles, said she enjoyed the earthy humour in Foster’s play — as well as the jokes cracked by actors during the rehearsal process.
With scripted references to the sheriff character needing to relieve himself behind a bush, there were plenty of opportunities for wise-cracks. “Believe me, it’s funny,” said a chuckling Rorke.
Outlaw isn’t just a comedy about whether Hicks, from Rat Creek, Man., can talk his way out of a tight spot — it also pokes fun at differences between folks on either side of the border.
Rorke said there are digs about Canadians being too polite — in fact, Hicks says he doesn’t carry a firearm because he doesn’t believe in them.
The U.S. vigilantes, including Sheriff Dupuis Tarwater, just can’t figure the Canuck out.
“When one guy asks Bob, ‘Are you stupid?’ another one says, ‘He’s Canadian,’ ” said Rorke, who had trouble casting the role of Hicks because rehearsals fell over the Christmas holidays.
But she’s thrilled with newcomer Blaine Anderson’s performance — especially since he started a month after the other cast members.
CAT veterans Derek Olinek and Michael Sutherland also have roles in the play, as does Craig Scott. “I have a seriously good cast,” she added.
Outlaw will feature a Western set comprised of a rock, a tree, a stump and a fence, designed by Patrick Beagan.
What: Central Alberta Theatre presents Outlaw, a comedy by Norm Foster
When: Jan. 8 to 31, dinner 6 p.m., show 8 p.m. (except for Sunday brunch, which starts at noon, show at 1:45 p.m.)
Where: Black Knight Inn dinner theatre
Tickets: $59 from Black Knight ticket centre