a theatre, film & pop culture review
I’ve never seen or read any of Dael Orlandersmith’s work before (though I’ve always, always confused her Yellowman with David Henry Hwang’s Yellowface), so I had few expectations going in to Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of her newest play, Horsedreams. But once the usher informed me the runtime was just 90 minutes, no intermission, I was already on board with Ms. Orlandersmith (I firmly believe that unless you’re Shakespeare or O’Neill — even then, you’re pushing it — your play should not exceed two hours. Musicals excepted, naturally).
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Exploring the breakdown of a family due to addiction, Orlandersmith deals mainly in cliches: NYC party girl (read: social coke-user) Desiree settles for big businessman Loman, despite dreams of wanting so much more. Once she’s moved up state and given birth to too-adorable-for words-son Luka, her drug habit increases steadily in attempt to escape the depressing reality of her unrealized dreams, eventually and frighteningly including highballs of coke and dope, which she scores by late night limo trips to Lexington 1-2-5 (Lexington Ave/125th St. in Harlem). Her eventual, inevitable death by overdose causes Loman to spiral into his own addiction, forcing young Luka to parent his own father.
Despite the over-familiar characters and the simplistic plot, Horsedreams surprisingly works. Orlandersmith writes starkly lyrical monologues in a counterpoint that is aggressively paced by director Gordon Edelstein. The superb cast includes Roxanna Hope (Desiree), Michael Laurence (Loman), the impressively mature Matthew Schechter (Luka) and the playwright herself as Mira, the no-nonsense nanny/Nursing student from Harlem who takes horse-obsessed Luka under her wing when his parents fail to raise him (there’s a nice, if obvious, juxtaposition of the highs of riding horses and drugs).
Once again, Rattlestick proves its knack for supporting interesting playwrights. I’ll certainly keep my eye out for Ms. Orlandersmith from now on.