How the West Was Spun
nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
August 13, 2006
I really wanted to like How the West Was Spun. It's a one-man show about Will Rogers, where Edward Teli Cardaci performs Wild West arts like rope-spinning and six-gun-twirling. Cardaci mixes his rope tricks with stand-up comedy, and tells a lot of the jokes that Rogers used in his own comedy/spinning act nearly a hundred years ago. Cardaci has some good topical gags about politics, and Rogers's material still holds up a century later ("every time Congress writes a joke, it becomes a law").
Despite all the potential here, the show isn't very polished. I like to think that Cardaci was having an off day when I saw the show, or that the venue just wasn't big enough to accommodate his Pecos Bill-sized ropes. Regardless of why, he did miss a lot of throws, dropped some props, and nearly killed a few set pieces during his finale. Of course he was always ready with a funny quip after flubbing a trick (just as Rogers used to do after missing a throw), and it must be pointed out that handling a lariat is a lot harder than Lynda Carter made it look.
Cardaci is certainly a charming performer, and he pulls off some very difficult rope tricks, such as simultaneously tap dancing, playing the harmonica, and juggling with one hand, while twirling a lasso with the other. His devotion to teaching the 21st century about Rogers is admirable, too. There's a good history lesson in here, particularly about how little things have changed in the last hundred years, and the racism that existed against Native Americans, even in the Wild West shows (Rogers was known as "The Cherokee Kid" during his days with Texas Jack's Wild West Circus). Rogers, we also learn, was a pacifist whose death came under mighty suspicious circumstances.
Cardaci jumps back and forth between himself and a Will Rodgers impression, but often the distinctions between personas aren't significant. Cardaci's own stand-up persona is so heavily inspired by Rogers that there's not much to distinguish them in terms of material, or in physical/vocal characterization.
The show's half hour running time might feel a bit skimpy to some folk, too.
Despite these problems, this production could form the skeleton of a much better show. With more development, this unique show may very well turn out to be a hit in future Fringe Festivals.