Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage takes place in a ranch house in Wyoming. Big 8 (Mary Pauley) is a rodeo healer who works wonders on cowboys who've been thrown, bucked, trampled or otherwise crushed. She's fed up with the slippery slope of modern corporate encroachment on the rough-and-tumble sport. "Rodeo's going to hell in a handbasket," she cries. "Now, they've even got artificial damn dirt!"
Ensemble Arts Productions has brought the enigmatically named Flaming Guns to the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. The play was written by another enigma: Jane Martin. Secrecy surrounds this spectral scribe, but there is a persistent rumor Martin is the pen name of Jon Jory, artistic director of Actor's Theatre of Louisville.
Big 8's tirades fall on deaf ears because her partner, Rob Bob (Leon Contavesprie, in one of his most effective performances), is enthralled with a book. "I'm checking facts on Gabby Hayes," he says. Despite twisters and dust devils, the rodeo romance seems likely to continue, but a fatal knock on the door throws all into confusion. Who should enter but a thin, wild young woman in a wig and clothing with an aura of lost hippiedom. She announces her name is SheDevil (Molly E. Maginnis), and things start to get weird — and, unfortunately, confusing at times. SheDevil is hunting for Lucifer, possibly an ex-lover, who may have knocked her up, then packed his meds and split. Or she's hunting for a bizarre Ukrainian psychopath, Black Dog (Benjamin Clement), who eventually shows up at the ranch house.
There are moments of off-the-wall humor, like SheDevil's story of a hitchhiker who got hit by lightning: "All that was found was his contact lens and foreskin." There also are other complications. Big 8's sister is a black woman named Shirl (Latricia Huston), whose speech and attitudes are anything but Western. None of this is explained, and there is something slightly patronizing about the playwright's attitude toward Shirl. The core of the play, however, is centered on romance. Rob Bob and SheDevil fall for each other, while sheriff's deputy Baxter (the hilarious Michael Sullivan) pursues Shirl.
Andrew Elliott produced and directed this comic pandemonium. It won't be everyone's cup of TNT, but if you like theatrical thrill rides, you will enjoy it.
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
NOCCA|Riverfront, Nims Black Box Theatre, 2800 Chartres St., 470-5859; www.ensembleartsnola.com