Dead Outlaw at the Minetta Lane Theatre

The Crew from Band's Visit Reunites

By: - Mar 29, 2024

Dead Outlaw is Audible’s latest production at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York. The band is central on stage from start to finish. We enter the world of a rocking hoe-down celebrating life after death.  

Composer David Yazbek heard the story of Elmer McCurdy decades ago.  It haunted him.  He was able to re-assemble the team from award-winning Band's Visit to bring McCurdy’s mummy to life.  

Today we find it quite natural to stare at stone and metal statues and visit waxed figures in museums.  Yet there was a time in America when freak shows attracted the masses.  We stared at Lloyd Suh’s Chinese lady at the Public Theater.  She was alive.  Bradley Cooper’s descent in Nightmare Alley is live.  While Andrew Durand (Elmer) does not come to life after he is killed in a hayloft with a single bullet, the actor actually plays the mummy for 40 minutes.  You keep wondering if he is a mummy.   He is.   

The opening is deceptively lovely.  Elmer is on top of a railway car, staring at the stars and singing a hymn to riding the rails.  Yet quickly we are in the midst of complex life on the ground with co-composer Erik Della Penna strumming his guitar.  

The band is on a slight riser, inserted onto the stage and dominant.  Most of the dramatic action takes place on stage floor level to the right.  Quickly Elmer is pictured in his Maine home, quietly sitting at a table, but erupting volcanically when he is disturbed or crossed.  We get it.  This attractive young man is capable of doing anything when incited.  

From the start the music is wonderful. Audible produces recordings of its shows and this one is well worth getting.  Yet it is the use of language, which phenom Itamar Moses wrote, that grabs your attention.  It is minimal, but descriptive, rocking between narrative told by various cast members and live dialogue, as Elmer gets off the train in towns going ever further westward and becomes part of each community.   He starts in his trained profession of plumber but can’t help messing that up. Without blinking, he leaves behind a local girl who’s fallen for him. Julia Knitel is like Laura Ingalls Wilder, wonderful as the only woman in this wild west.  

Elmer’s efforts as a bank robber and then holding up railroads are hilariously inept.  If you’re going to be an outlaw, star at it.  

No one can be found to pay the mortuary bills when his body is brought in. Elmer’s future life as a mummy launches. The original mortician shoots him up with arsenic, a preservative.  While this part of the show isn't as developed as the initial Elmer- live story, it has possibilities. Thom Sesma as the coroner Thomas Naguchi is a marvel to watch. You wait for each entirely original physical gesture to erupt. The music continually engages.

Now playing at the Minetta Lane.  A hoot.  And country is in. Beyonce’s latest album is Cowboy Carter. So is life after death.  Harvard has just removed a book binding made of human skin.  Certainly the show is worth a listen and then some. It could transfer to a larger venue after its limited run through April 14.  Tickets here.