SAN VALENTINO AND THE MELANCHOLY KID, House Theatre of Chicago, at Viaduct Theater. Derivative? You bet. Gleefully, aggressively, pret' near ecstatically so. Nathan Allen's new show about a troubled cattle drive hasn't met a cowboy trope it isn't positively googly over, pulling archetypes out of Howard Hawks and hallucinations out of Sam Shepard.
But the homages don't stop at the story line. There are plenty of stylistic quotes as well. Bits involving knife juggling and some philosophical lariat spinning ("You can't fight the rope. You gotta surrender to it") recall the Flying Karamazov Brothers. The onstage rock band goes back again to Shepard. Closer to home, it's easy to pick out affinities to Jellyeye's fondly remembered avant horse opera, Avalanch Ranch--and, perhaps most of all, to Lookingglass in its youth.
Like early Lookingglass, the twentysomething House ensemble seems to dare itself to master as many skills as possible in a single production. Aside from the knives and the lariat, you'll find bits of magic, all kinds of musicianship, and even some flamenco dancing here. The difference is that where early Lookingglass tended to deploy its skills in the service of a somber, gorgeous poetry, House seems to be all about exuberance. As familiar as most elements of this production are, the whole comes across as original in an intimate and hilarious way. Talented, vital people have given their hearts, minds, and hands to it, and it shows. I had a great time.