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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 13, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 19
Absurd Love Horse deserves more laughs
Arts & Entertainment
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Absurd Love Horse deserves more laughs

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Love Horse
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through June 6


Love Horse is the West Coast premiere of Bryn Magnus' 2001 play at Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET). It's a surreal, dream-like play with a scientific aspect that goes beyond science fiction into fantasy. In an interview with WET, Magnus said he wanted his play to be a social comment on science and humanity. 'There is something dangerous and imminent about the intrusion of pharmaceuticals and medical science in a way that is going to change humanity,' he said.

So, Magnus wrote a play about a man uncomfortable with human love, filled with wild feelings, who (spoiler alert: this could be considered the secret of the play) turns out to have started life as a horse. Adam Standley plays Tanner Hicks with hints of horse-like physicality and a startled, wounded innocence.

The main story in the play involves Tanner's unspoken love for waitress Rita (Emily Chisholm). The beginning of the play is almost silent, as Tanner comes to visit her and she acts like a horse whisperer to get him not to bolt, but fails. Chisholm is lovely as the pragmatic, scarred Rita, and though she's a large part of the play, her role ends up being superfluous to the real topic of the play.

What the play really is about is Tanner's exploration of who he is, accompanied by his boy-band butoh enforcers (a hysterical concept: collection agents who study bill-delinquent doctors and dentists thoroughly enough to craft dances so specific they'll be scared into paying their debts) and a cokehead dentist. When Tanner breaks a tooth at the diner and approaches the dentist for surgery, the dentist is so awed at his clearly altered jaw that he joins Tanner's search for his past.

Tanner's 'birth parents' are a married couple, scientists and surgeons, who have taken DNA reconstruction to its horrifyingly ultimate level and transformed him from a horse into a human. They feel that it is their art to turn beings into other beings. It is this mad-scientist hubris that is at the center of Magnus' commentary: that scientists could decide - just because it can be done - that it is fundamentally artistic and okay to mess with Mother Nature and remake her creations.

Tanner is left to solve the problem of living the rest of his life in this mangled body. Whether he ultimately finds himself capable of fulfilling the human love Rita feels for him only ends up being a part of how he manages to continue forward.

As directed by Makaela Pollock, the WET team gives the play the intense artistic workout it needs to even begin to succeed. It is a comedy, but this production mutes the comedy sometimes, and its absurd concepts deserve more in-your-face laughs. Alex Matthews and Ali el-Gasseir are both good as the dancer sidekicks, but if they cut loose some more, they'd be way funnier. As scientists, Kate Kraay and Jonah VonSpreecken do a better job at mining the laughs while asserting horrible justifications of their actions. James Weidman does his usual stalwart job at maintaining a serious demeanor when delivering absurd dialogue.

Everyone is aided by costumes by Kimberley Newton and kick-ass sound design by Evan Mosher, including some funny relevant song choices. Amiya Brown's evocative lighting supports a spare, modular style set by Andrea Bryn Bush.

Some of the funnier aspects of the play turn violence on its head by suggesting that anyone could be threatened by a butoh dance choreographed after stalking you thoroughly to determine your fears. Again, more could be made of that absurdity.

Magnus' script sounds like more of a comedy than it is made to be here. Without it, the serious subject wouldn't resonate as strongly as it could by contrast. For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org or www.brownpapertickets.org or call 800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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