In the new play HORSEDREAMS Roxanna Hope gives an outstanding and tragic performance as Desiree, an empty young woman who finds her existence thrown into suburban hell in an instant. Her fall is a meticulously crafted one, and her end is so goosebump inducing, one would think the height of the play would be in the first 20 minutes when the character meets her early demise.
Fortunately the production has many other pulse-pounding moments after the early shocking plot point and rarely loses its momentum. Dael Orlandersmith has crafted an affecting, if sometimes melodramatic, packed tale of addiction in the scope of a well-to-do white family that comes full circle in many shocking ways.
After losing his wife to an accidental overdose, Loman finds himself going down the same path while his horse-loving son Luka (a very proficient Matthew Schechter) must watch and live with his family’s addiction.
Orlandersmith’s monologues about the process of drug use glamorize the act in a way that almost redeems the troubled couple. They are descriptive and invoke graphic images of the powerful effects of the drugs.
Director Gordon Edelstein brings top-notch performances out of the four-person cast. The instant switch from monologue into scene is seamless.
In addition to writing the alarming work, Orlandersmith also delivers a grounded, affecting performance as Mira, the family’s nanny and the show’s moral center. Her speeches about her traumatizing childhood contrasted with her overall self-assurance paint a dramatic picture of a very strong woman fighting to rise above her impoverished life.
Though mostly framed by intense internal monologues delivered directly to the audience, the moments that really crackle after Desiree’s demise are the few heated interactions between the three surviving characters, particularly Luka’s near-climactic confrontation with his father who has hit rock bottom.
Unfortunately, the central character Loman is never sympathetic and does little but illustrate the evils of drugs without much driving force otherwise. That isn’t to say the Michael Laurence doesn’t achieve a noteworthy performance as he slips deeper and deeper past a point of no return.
Takseshi Kata’s simple, yet very telling set communicates the dilapidation and brokenness of the family with a shattered grey dream-like backdrop further divided by a displaced light fixture.
HORSEDREAMS crawls under the skin and by the end, I was left numb by the honest performances and Olrlandersmith’s chilling script.
Performances begin November 9, 2011 for a limited run through Sunday, December 11 at Rattlestick Theatre (224 Waverly Place – off 7th Avenue South – between West 11th & Perry Streets). The play had its opening night Thursday, November 17, 2011.