FARGO - No matter our age, background or personal experience, self-fulfillment is something we all strive for in life.

Some people are fortunate to know who they are and what they want at a young age; others may not figure it out until well into adulthood. It's a process that takes a lot of time and soul-searching, but more often than not, the catalyst that leads to our self-fulfillment and subsequent happiness comes along when we least expect it.

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This is at the heart of what Theatre NDSU explores in "Late, a Cowboy Song," which will be performed Oct. 11-13 and 17-20 at Walsh Studio Theatre in Askanase Hall.

Written by Sarah Ruhl, "Late, a Cowboy Song" follows Mary and Crick, a couple from Pittsburgh together since the second grade. Crick doesn't like change or when Mary stays out too late. Mary is content to follow his rules because it's all she's ever known.

That starts to change when Mary reconnects with Red, an old high school friend and lady cowboy who "always wore a money clip instead of wearing a purse." Red is a free spirit who makes her own rules, and after spending time with her, Mary starts to crave similar freedom - much to Crick's chagrin. Tension builds between Mary and Crick as the story unfolds, and the birth of their first child only exasperates their widening ideological gap.

'Mary's journey'

Although the play was written more than a decade ago, "Late, a Cowboy Song" remains relevant today as it tackles themes like gender identity, toxic relationships and self-actualization.

"The great thing about this show from beginning to end is Mary's journey," Director Hardy Koenig says. "At first, she always backs down and tries to make things okay. She apologizes for things she doesn't need to apologize for. Then, she gets stronger and makes some choices that are good for her."

Koenig says Theatre NDSU included the play this season because it makes audiences think and provides meaningful acting experience for the three NDSU students in the production. Cast members in the show include Maria Sunderman as Mary, Zach Christensen as Crick and Natalie Dulka as Red.

Because the story is told in small vignettes, the play features a simple set with few props and scene locations projected on a screen. However, Koenig says the story itself is anything but simple.

When they started reading through the play at the beginning of the production, he and the cast found that Ruhl doesn't put anything in her plays by accident.

"You almost feel a responsibility to do (the play) justice because there's so much there," Koenig says. "You can't just run over things."

Sunderman says playing Mary has been the most challenging yet rewarding role she's undertaken during her time at NDSU.

"(Mary) is a very complex character with a lot of ups and downs, but I think what she goes through in this show are things a lot of women can relate to," the senior musical theatre major says. "I connect to Mary in a lot of ways. She's very gentle and kind but also curious and has a hunger to do more with her life. It's been fun to find these similarities and really bring myself into the character each night."

Sunderman hopes audiences leave the theater with renewed motivation to achieve their own goals, especially the ones that have been delayed.

"Sometimes it's easy to get into a routine of life and forget what it means to truly live," she says. "I hope audiences leave with a sense of urgency to do the thing that they've been afraid to do and know that it's not too late to be happy."

If you go

What: "Late, a Cowboy Song"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, through Saturday, Oct. 13, and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17-20

Where: Walsh Studio Theatre, Askanase Hall, NDSU campus

Info: Tickets range from $8 to $15; https://ndsu.showare.com or 701-231-7969


This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.