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Paulanne Simmons

"Horsedreams" Tells Us to Just Say No

Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place
Opened Nov. 17, 2011
Mon. at 8pm, Wed. thru Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $55 (212) 279-4200
Closes Dec. 11, 2011
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 16, 2011

Rich, white people go uptown to Harlem to buy drugs from poor blacks. These racists look down on the people who sell them drugs. They think they are better than inner city criminals because they don’t have to steal to get the money to buy the drugs that are nevertheless ruining their lives.

Although this is not a particularly startling or original discovery, it is nevertheless a reality worth repeating. But the stereotypical characters and cliched situations Dael Orlandersmith has created in "Horsedreams" serve neither her purpose nor her play.

Desiree (Roxanna Hope) and Loman (Michael Laurence) live life on the fast track. Their all-night partying is furled by coke. But after Roxanna gets pregnant and they get married, Loman decides it’s time to change their lifestyle. This leaves Roxanna at home with the baby while Loman is at work. Mostly out of boredom, she returns to the high life, and before you know it, she’s addicted to heroin.

An overdose of heroin cut with quinine kills Roxanna and leaves Loman the single parent of their very young son, Luka (Matthew Schechter), a sensitive child who remembers his mother, haunting him in dreams, even though he was only three when she died. Loman tries real hard. He hires a black nanny, Mira (Orlandersmith), who lives in the same neighborhood as the drug dealers who once supplied his wife. But he eventually cracks under the pressure and soon he too is shooting up.

Luka, a precocious child whose monologues show he certainly knows his symbolism, puts two and two together and figures out that his father is on drugs (not too difficult when you consider that Dad scores right in front of the child). Mira, who knows all about drug addiction, sees what’s happening but can’t do much to stop these privileged, stupid white folks from misbehaving.

The story is told mostly through interwoven monologues addressed to the audience. This doesn’t give the actor much chance to create dramatic situations, but it does give them many opportunities to express themselves. In fact, the characters reveal their thoughts and feelings so many times, people in the audience should be paid a psychiatrist’s fee by the time the play is over.

Director Gordon Edelstein keeps most of the actors onstage even when they are not involved in the action. This provides continuity but can be both distracting and confusing. He tries to use music, sound and light to give the play dramatic intensity. But it’s not easy to turn a series of narratives into a drama.

"Horsedreams" has a story worth telling. But Orlandersmith is so eager to make her point she doesn’t take the time to create three-dimensional characters to illustrate it.

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