Academic journal article TheatreForum

Billy the Kid Reappears in New Mexico

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Billy the Kid Reappears in New Mexico

Article excerpt

In January 2004, the Tricklock Ensemble premiered its second edition of The Glorious and Bloodthirsty Billy the Kid, the Greatest Serial Killer of Our Time-a Wild West Show & Cabaret! A first version (March 2003) had played to enthusiastic houses at Tricklock's small performance space in its home, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both versions were created by the same ensemble of three men and three women under the literary and stage direction of Joseph Pesce, the company's Artistic Director. Designed to tour, the piece exploits one of the timeless mythic figures of Tricklock's state and region.

Billy the Kid is mainly myth and legend. While a few western historians know a little something about William Henry Bonney-McCarry-Antrim, (1860-61?-1881) and others debate whether this shadowy figure was really The Kid, Billy exists today as postmodern construction of later theatricalizations. No sooner dead than fictionalized, Billy became a staple of pulp fiction and pop melodrama in the late nineteenth century. In silent, serial, and feature films, he has been incarnated by Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele, Buster Crabbe, Robert Taylor, Audie Murphy, Paul Newman, Kris Kristofferson, Emilio Estevez, and Val Kilmer. Lovers of junk culture might particularly treasure some of the legend's freakish variations, from Billy the Kid versus Dracula (John Carradine as the Count comes to the frontier, 1966) to Revenge of Billy the Kid (a real kid, i.e. a goat, who is the mutant offspring of a perverted farmer named McDonald, enacts his revenge in a farmyard splatter orgy, 1991).

On the stage, where gunslingers are more difficult subjects, the most popular contemporary retelling of the Lincoln County saga is a poetic text with a postmodern slant, Michael Ondaatjes The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Among alternative versions, Lee Blessing appealed to the contemporary taste for conspiracy theories in The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid (1979), which shows Pat Garrett killing Billy a second time in 1908. Novelist Rudolfo A. Anaya appealed to other New Mexicans by making Billy a Chicano outlaw (Billy the Kid, 1999). The most memorable Billy of contemporary drama is probably the violent sexual aggressor in beat poet Michael McClure's The Beard (1965), which Joe Pesce had already performed with his Tricklock collaborator Kerry Morrigan in Seattle and Albuquerque and on European tour (1999).

But this Glorious and Bloodthirsty Billy the Kid is an ensemble creation, and the mythic rebel without a cause offers an opening for the company's young, thrusting energies and its main stylistic enthusiasm, physical theatre.


Tricklock is a company without precedent in New Mexico's theatrical history and a model for young theatre people in other deserts, real and metaphorical.

New Mexico has the oldest performative traditions in the United States. Native American performances involving song, dance, comedy, and religious narrative continue today on the same sites where they took place before any Europeans came over the mesa. 1598 saw the first European dramatic performances on soil that is now part of the US when colonists led by Don Juan Onate came north from Mexico bringing original and traditional folk drama, and those traditional performances likewise lived on uninterrupted and enriched to the present day.

But New Mexico has proven chancy terrain for both traditional and experimental theatre in English. Community theatres have flourished since the early twentieth century in Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque, but they have seldom progressed beyond amateur performers and volunteer staff presenting seasons of metropolitan hits and deathless classics. The state had a bright modern LORT company, the New Mexico Repertory Theatre, but it collapsed financially after ten good years. Groups of young experimenters have arisen, sometimes for a few years each, but none has flourished by widening their mission or sinking roots into the state's poor financial soil. …

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