Bang, Pardner

Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage promises a rompin', stompin' good time

Jane Martin's overheated cowboy comedy Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage is full of lines such as "Got you the head injury, couldn't rodeo no more" and "You rowdy ol' breast man!" The play is a parody of macho Westerns, with some mockery of macho horror-film clichés, too.

On the heels of a high-quality interpretation of It's All True (the story of the censored 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock), the HotHouse Theatre Company brings a verbal and physical horse opera to its versatile black-box-theater space for two weeks of raunch, gore and laughter, beginning this weekend.

The play opens on Big Eight, a character Martin has used in another play, who employs a mixture of psychology and extra-tender TLC to rehabilitate rodeo cowboys who have for some reason lost their magic touch. Big Eight's current boy-toy, Rob Bob, is just about to practice some bareback riding when a well-traveled punker princess called Shedevil interrupts their training.

Shedevil claims she has been impregnated by Big Eight's son and that she needs a place to stay. She neglects to inform her new friends, however, that she is also being pursued by a giant, bald, psychotic extra-Y-chromosome-type called Black Dog. Then there's the town sheriff, a superbumpkin who is soon coated in gallons of stage blood along with the rest of them.

Each performance of Flaming Guns is followed by an 11 p.m. performance of The Wizard of A.I.D.S., a parody of The Wizard of Oz intended to promote safe sex, acted by HotHouse actors and written and directed by Chicago's HealthWorks Theatre. The parable features the Wicked Witch of Unsafe Sex, a horny scarecrow and giant body condoms.

The cleverness in Flaming Guns lies not in the plot or pacing but in the characters, dialogue and physical comedy. Audiences should have fun with it, as long as HotHouse director Marty Stanberry obeys the golden rule of comedy: it's all in the ... timing.