Ever wonder what it would be like if Sam Shepard had written Samuel Beckett’s plays? If so, you can now find out first hand at the Public Theater where Shepard’s latest, Kicking a Dead Horse,
is having its U.S. premiere and will officially open on Monday night. I took in one of the final preview week's performances on Sunday. It originated at the Abbey Theater in Dublin last Fall and still maintains its one and only speaking cast member, Stephen Rea. (There is a brief non-speaking cameo by Elissa Piszel as well whose main activity is reflected in the above photo.)
Yes, it’s a monologue. Yes it’s a philosophical play with a big dollop of absurdist humor. And yes, it's probably more engaging as an intellectual exercise than a complete piece of theater. This 70-minute piece concerns Hobart Struther, a recently retired New York art dealer who has come by himself to the desert Southwest in search of…well, something more
. Unfortunately, as the curtain rises, we find that Hobart’s horse had collapsed and died on him, leaving him stranded in the desert with no idea what direction he came from. Hobart feels guilty about simply leaving the horse to rot and digs a grave with the intention of burying the animal, a task the horse seems unwilling to cooperate with even in death. This, of course, becomes the jumping off point for philosophical pondering about the nature of Hobart’s existence, the myth of the West, the construction of the Self and all the other Big Topics that Western Art likes to concern itself with. Hobart is often struggling against himself, trying to come to terms with his own history after a life of co-opting the Western American culture and landscape he loves for fun and profit back in the big city. The horse meanwhile lies there and symbolizes all kinds of things and, yes, Stephen Rea does in fact occasionally kick it. I won’t spoil the end but I bet you can already guess where this is going.
Rea is very good and quite convincing as Hobart. Ruth E. Sternberg directs him in a performance that is down-to-earth despite its intellectual agenda. Rea keeps the text more practical sounding and avoids an overly introspective approach to the work. But it’s not quite enough to keep the whole thing afloat. Shepard has some great, if not entirely original, points to make about our current post-millennium tension over the degradation of the American dream and spirit (After invading other sovereign nations what else is there left for us Americans to do?). He also fills the piece with plenty of dry, mordant humor and avoids much magical thinking. But the overall situation is far from satisfaction guaranteed. Still, if you like Shepard, or Beckett for that matter, I bet this is right up your alley. The Public Theater has already extended the run prior to the show's opening next week so it appears to be drawing some attention.
Labels: Out of Town, Out of Town Theater Reviews