The Life and Times of Tulsa Lovechild

Bozeman Daily CHRONICLE

  Tulsa Lovechild (Cara Wilder) speaks with Bob played by Joel Jahnke.

Tulsa Lovechild (Cara Wilder) speaks with Bob played by Joel Jahnke.

‘Tulsa Lovechild’ takes a road trip to the heart of America 

By GAIL SCHONTZLER, Chronicle Staff Writer

Posted: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 11:00 pm

As a wannabe playwright in graduate school, Greg Owens remembers the conventional wisdom was that one should stick to simple scripts and just two or three characters.

"I did that a couple years, and found them boring," recalls Owens, 41. "This was written in reaction."

"The Life and Times of Tulsa Lovechild" is his fast-paced comedy that romps across a half-dozen states, 40 different scenes and 14 fairly crazy characters.

It's the story of Tulsa, a struggling grad student, compelled by her hippy mother's dying wish to take a road trip to scatter her ashes where Tulsa was born, at "Bob's Exit 238 American Motel in beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma."

Along the way Tulsa meets up with a former child TV star, a farmer who wants to kidnap Miss Nebraska, and Melvin the cult leader who is killed and reincarnated as a real estate developer, among others. And there's her mother, a ghost.

"There's a certain zany randomness," Owens allows. At the same time, he likes to mix things up. "I like to think it has something for everybody n some pretty over the top comedy … some smart dialog, some heartfelt, poignant scenes."

The play has sparked laughter and won acclaim from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was named the Best Off-Loop Play of 2001 by the Chicago Tribune and called "hugely cheerful and energetic" by the Los Angeles Times.

Now for the first time it's coming to a stage in Owens' own Bozeman backyard at Montana State University's Black Box Theater.

"Greg jokes that it's ADD theater," said Cara Wilder, a veteran Bozeman actress, adjunct MSU acting instructor and member of Broad Comedy. Wilder play Tulsa, who is struggling to reconcile her mother's hippy, activist ideals with a world where they don't seem to apply.

"It's a three-ring circus of the most fascinating, lovable characters," said Dee Dee Van Zyl, of Livingston's Blue Slipper Theatre, who plays Sylvia, the lively ghost. "The cast is incredible n some of the finest actors in Bozeman."

The cast includes Joel and Kathy Jahnke, Will and Susan Dickerson, Dan Erickson, Kathleen Hoberecht and other veterans of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and local theater productions.

Colter Langan gets to play various bad guys n including a politician who rants against "liberal fascists."

"I like the sort of slice of American culture it gives you," Langan said.

Kari Doll has fun playing a car rental agent.

"I like the originality," Doll said. "It's unlike any play you've ever seen."

"I feel so lucky, so lucky to have assembled these amazing people," Wilder said. "They are fabulous."

"Tulsa Lovechild" is being co-produced by MSU's School of Film and Photography and the newly formed Actors Theatre of Montana. Actors Theatre was created by Wilder, Van Zyl and Lila Michael, a talented local actress, former Bozeman High drama teacher and Owens' wife. Wilder said their goal is to start a professional theater where local actors might actually get paid for their creative work.

It's always a struggle for artists to make a living in Bozeman, and Owens has had his own list of day jobs, from planting trees to shoveling snow. He grew up in Indiana on his grandfather's farm, his parents worked in a factory and he was the first in his family to go to college. Before he went into playwriting, he was a DJ.

"I guess I was looking for a way to make even less money," Owens joked. On a whim he took a college class in playwriting, he said. "I kind of fell in love with it."

He met Lila in grad school at Indiana University. They lived in Chicago for a time, until she was mugged. A kid put a gun to her head, he said. "We knew we wanted to get out of there."

For the past 10 years in Bozeman, Owens' life in Bozeman has been almost as madcap as Tulsa Lovechild's. He and Lila are raising two little girls, he's writing another original play for the Vigilante Theatre Company, "Adventures on the Western Stage," and he's also producing one-act plays for Equinox Theatre Co., and helping Lila prepare a one-woman show that he wrote.

"I still don't have a regular day job," Owens said. "I remained committed to the craft."

"Tulsa Lovechild" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at MSU's Black Box Theater.. Tickets are $14 for general admission or $12 for students and seniors. For more information, call 994-3904.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.