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A CurtainUp Review

What will happen when men no longer look?/what will I do?/I know there’s MORE to it all than that but I NEED them to LOOK/ the real moment passes again/ I keep dancing and as I dance HE comes up to me-Loman/Loman comes up to me on the dance floor. — Desiree
Dael Orlandersmith, and Matthew Schechter
(Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)
Horsedreams is a brutally frank and unsparingly honest play about a family decimated by drug addiction. That it is written in a beautifully composed, essentially lyrical, narrative-driven style comes as no surprise as it is by playwright/actor/poet Dael Orlandersmith.

Her most lauded play, Yellowman, originally commissioned by the McCarter Theater and presented there in 2002 in a staged reading as part of a Second Stage/On Stage series, made a vivid and lasting impression upon me when I first saw it. A powerful and memorable play about intra-racial prejudice among black people, Yellowman was subsequently short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize, it was impressively produced, in association with the McCarter by the Manhattan Theater Club later that year.

Horsedreams continues a recurring theme that runs through Yellowman, as well as other Orlandersmith’s plays: how children are undone by the sins of their parents. Horsedreams chronicles the disintegration of a marriage from drug abuse and the inevitable impact it has on the couple’s impressionable 10 year-old son. All four characters – Loman (Michael Lawrence) a corporate lawyer, his wife Desiree (Roxanna Hope), Luka (Matthew Schechter) their ten year-old son, and Mira (Dael Orlandersmith), Luka’s nanny – are on stage from the beginning and remain there throughout, but they step forward to provide both exposition as well as to tell the story from their own perspective.

Orlandersmith explores the issues and characters through the familiar story-theater device, the first-person narrative. Monologues are the trajectory and the interaction between the characters is spare. But under Gordon Edelstein’s taut and decisive direction, when confrontations do occur, they are intense. The mesmerizing text is praiseworthy for being lyrical without being pretentious, earthy without being gratuitous.

Hope gives an impressively discomforting performance as the pretty, self-absorbed party girl who lives for the Saturday nights when she and her girl friends (unseen), under the influence of lines of cocaine and glasses of champagne, cruise the trendy dance clubs with the hope of picking up a hunk for the night. Her opening salvo is a humorous rant on the effort that goes into getting your hair, eyes, clothes and makeup just right in preparation for the evening’s stakeout. She scores when she catches the eye of Loman (Michael Laurence), a trim, nice-looking well-to-do lawyer, smug with self-assurance and a limo at his disposal.

Loman may be the catch of a life-time for her, but she is the find that fulfills his sexual fantasy. Together they embark on a hot and heavy romance, hyped by cocaine and champagne, a weekend in Paris, culminating with a wedding and a home in Westchester County.

Desiree soon enough hates the big house in Westchester almost as much as she hates the big belly that comes with being pregnant. "I'm falling apart," she screams finding relief in an occasional line of coke that soon becomes more than just an occasion. Along with the limitations that come with child-rearing and suburban life, Desiree's unhappiness is mainly fueled by her growing disgust with Loman who has become obsessed with being richer and more successful. This leaves Desiree to seek freedom and solace from more and more drugs. She obtains the drugs easily enough from a dealer on 125th and Lexington, the address serving almost as a mantra during the play.

Despite Desiree’s death from an overdose of drugs, a tragedy that we are prepared for from the beginning, her continuing presence in the play as a ghost is significant, especially as a link to Luka’s recurring dreams. Realizing the need to stabilize Luka’s life, Loman employs Harlem resident Mira (Orlandersmith), a formidably loving take-charge nanny. Through Mira's trenchant observations, we also get an uncompromising view of how her family and community have been impacted by the drug trade, and in very different ways than have the rich white people downtown.

As much as the play subsequently turns on Loman’s increasing dependency on cocaine as well as heroin, it is Luka’s conflicted response to his father’s inability to control his use of drugs that hurtles us toward the play’s devastating climactic moments. Schechter is a remarkably talented young actor, and he is absolutely splendid as the dispirited and disillusioned Luka.

Indirectly commenting on the play is Takeshi Kata surreal set design: a white neon bolt streaks diagonally across a grey, a dense, darkly clouded and cracked sky. A row of toy horses are lined up across the back of the set, in front are four wooden chairs and one table. The title of the play stems from Luka’s recurring dreams, in which his passion for horses and for his riding lessons that are intermingled with memories of his mother. Horse is also a common slang term for heroin. There is nothing common about Orlandersmith’s lyrical prose, and Horsedreams is a fine addition to her continually growing canon.


By Dael Orlandersmith Directed by Gordon Edelstein

Cast: Dael Orlandersmith (Mira), Roxanna Hope (Desiree), Michael Laurence (Loman), Matthew Schechter (Luka)
Set Design: Takeshi Kata
Costume Design: Kaye Voce
Lighting Design: Marcus Doshi
Running 90 minutes without intermission Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place
(212) 279 – 4200
Tickets: ($55.00)
Performances: Monday at 8 PM, Wednesday – Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
From: 11/09/11
Opening: 11/17/11
Closing: 12/11/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/14/11
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