There’s a New Sheriff in Town—and He Brought a Slide Show


Listen up, buckaroos and buckarettes. With a cowboy running the world, local sheriffs can’t be the only ones worrying about the rules of the West. Playwright-performer Jim Neu is an expert on frontier culture and shares his wisdom in Target Audience: The Code of the Western. The author presents himself as Dr. James Thorne, guest lecturer at the Saddleholster Film Festival, and addresses an audience of western-movie fans on the genre’s evolution. He’s backed up by Ashley Nevada, his guitar-strumming research assistant (Deborah Auer). Behind them footage rolls of B-movie scenes starring Lash LaRue, John Wayne, and a galloping Ronald Reagan. A slide show further illustrates his lecture.

Professor Thorne’s thesis gets as expansive as his silver belt buckle: “First they settled the West, then they settled the western.” Producers and writers arrived to claim the frontier not long after the settlers did, inventing irresistible historical icons and legends for America with ever loosening ties to historical fact. The result: A nation that absorbs its history through B movies now happily inhabits “islands of enriched reality.” “A lot of what we went through never actually happened,” he observes, but “it’s hard to deny the evidence of your senses.”

Though Neu’s deadpan delivery can be dryer than a Utah hill town, hardworking listeners can dig up nuggets of golden wit. As Dr. Thorne announces, “I’m a mining engineer, and what I’m looking for is meaning.” Despite the writing’s occasional charms, Target Audience‘s lecture-monologue mostly substitutes Neu’s drollness for drama, and his recitation can take a lethal pace. Still, when canny clips show besieged cowboys in a hapless showdown in the Arabian sands, Neu’s observations marshal more force than his stage presence might convey.

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