Cowboy Bob: How to Break Out of Life in a Rut

The cast of Cowboy Bob.
The cast of Cowboy Bob. Photo by Lynn Lane

Peggy Jo Tallas decided she wanted to rob banks. She dressed as a man and hit financial institutions around the Dallas suburbs, evading capture to many years. This part is real life.

In the musical Cowboy Bob, Peggy Jo (Jackie Burns) takes on mythic status to Rena (Ashley Pérez Flanagan) a waitress stuck in a boring job dreaming of doing something different with her life. In fact, several of the characters are looking for a way out in the production created by Molly Beach Murphy, Jeanns Phillips and Annie Tippe about to premiere at the Alley Theatre.

Brandon Hearshburger plays Manager Bill at the restaurant where Rena works and like her, he's trapped.

"I’m sort of caught in the typical middle management position. I've got a restaurant to run and I want everyone to love me, but I've also got corporate pressure on top of me to keep the place open because it's struggling.  I used to work in corporate but now I don’t so I’ve been demoted for some reason and it's not explained but I'm a man obsessed with self-help.

"Bill is very much a man in process," Hearshburger, said, laughing.

The musical follows two women, Hearshburger said. "One is Peggy Jo Tallas and she is from actual Texas history. She's a woman who dressed up as a male cowboy and robbed banks without using a gun. She  would just hand a note to the teller telling them to fill the bag up and he would leave. So this story is about Peggy Jo/Cowboy Bob and Rena who has been a waitress for 13 years at a restaurant called Peppers where Peggy Jo would sometimes eat.

"Everyone in this show is trying to break free of their place in life," Hearshburger said. 

The one-act musical jumps around in a timeline that starts in the mid '90s and ends in the mid 2000s. "Rena learns that this longtime customer was this infamous Texas bank robber and she takes inspiration from her and  Peggy Jo's lawlessness," Hearshburger said.

"Rena finds a way to embrace her own lawlessness and break free of the rules that constrain her," he added without saying exactly how she achieves this. . she’s been working at this restaurant for 13 years. She started at 16, that would make her 29..

The music created for the musical jumps around a bit as well, varying from country to indie rock to folk. But Hearshburger says that most of the focus is on country rock. "The lead instrument is the guitar."

Asked why he wanted to be in the musical, Hearshburger said: "One thing that drew me to it was that it was outside the vein of what we think of as a typical musical In the audition instructions they asked me to performs a song but nothing from the musical theater canon."

Other reasons: He's a native Houstonian and has extended family living in the Dallas area.

Hearshburger also said he had a lot to draw on for the part. "In exploring the tension between the mid-level  manager wanting everyone to  love him and having to be the boss, as an actor I’ve spent over a decade in restaurants and I’ve had plenty of managers to draw from for this character."

Performances continue though March 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $26-$78.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing