Review: Geography of a Horse Dreamer
Producing something meaningful takes luck, hard work and, most of all, inspiration. Thus the ground is set for YCDS’s interesting and inspiring production of Sam Shephard’s Geography of a Horse Dreamer. The play opens in a decrepit hotel room wherein two gangsters, Santee (Jack Turrell) and Beaujo (David Cutler) sit around watching over Cody (Binyamin Bixon) who lies tied to the bed. We quickly learn that Santee and Beaujo are working for some men who have kidnapped Cody believing him to have the powers to dream up the winning horses in that day’s race. However, it seems that his, and, by extension their, luck has run out as Cody’s dreams no longer produce anything meaningful. What happens next include a man being convinced he’s a dog, a psychotic doctor, a surprising shootout and probably the strangest room service help I’ve ever seen (granted, I haven’t seen much - it’s not a frequent trope).
The play moves at a brisk pace, coming in at under an hour and a half, and kept my attention the whole time. There are moments in act one, which predominantly features three actors walking around a room and talking, where I started to lose interest, but the play quickly regains itself by changing things up.
The play is weird - there’s no getting around that. And by that I don’t mean this interpretation of the play. I mean the play itself. However, as things go on and more and more dreamers are left to suffer, all of the seeming lunacy and strangeness seem to gel together to form this odd whole that can only be thought about and appreciated once all is said and done.
Lin Snider’s direction takes what is already a crazy play and fills the space with interesting choices. Every time a character starts to speak about their own real dreams - real hopes that are not the product of gangsters forcing them to dream - they step away from the light and towards the audience. They become different from the rest of the action that’s trying to crush them and take what’s theirs. Ultimately, though, their dreams end and they’re forced to rejoin the brutal hotel room that wants to take everything away.
The acting here is all good stuff, but I need to make special mention of Ben Machlin’s take as Fingers, the head of the crime syndicate. As soon as he stepped on stage in act two, he owned the scene. He’s not onstage for too long, but his whole character is a surprising change of pace. Fingers is big and loud and everything you thought he wouldn’t be, and Machlin makes it his own.
Turrell’s Santee is cocky and confident even when he shouldn’t be. Although there are moments where one can clearly see Turrell more than Santee, his interactions with the rest of the cast help elevate the two scenes that make up the show. His interactions with Bixon’s Cody are especially nice. Bixon, as written, has to adopt an Irish brogue as well as the mannerisms of an animal, and, while much dialogue gets lost in the accent, his physicality speaks volumes.
Similarly, David Cutler’s Beaujo is best exemplified by the too-big suit he wears throughout the show. His dedication to playing cards by himself and wavering in his voice throughout everything he does give a real sense of how uncomfortable the character is to be in that situation. But, as an actor he feels right at home onstage.
If I had one gripe (and, as a reviewer, whether this is misplaced or not, I feel I must have at least one), it’s the character of the Doctor, played by Matis Axel. Where Fingers was a big surprise, the Doctor, who barely gets mentioned in act one, feels like a character I’ve seen before, and done better. That’s not to say that Axel doesn’t do him justice. Rather, the menace that the Doctor is supposed to bring just felt like a vanilla choice among a play of weird surprises.
The set, designed by Yosef Boniuk, (which, full disclosure, I worked on) is funny and impressive. It’s not so much that the set itself is impressive; it’s fairly minimalistic, leaving the actors plenty of room to do their thing. Rather, it’s the fact that one room that was a dreary, gross hotel room that gets transformed into a big fancy place in a matter of minutes that had me admiring the ingenuity of it all.
However, most of all, I left the play thinking. Thinking about what it means to be inspired. Thinking about what it means to be young and to dream. Thinking about what it means to not be good enough when everybody needs you. I’m often plagued by a sense of self doubt that looms over me when I attempt to create anything. And a lot of that is probably warranted. But, after leaving the play, it got me thinking about these feelings. I’m interested in whether Cody really has a gift, or whether he is just a guy unsure of who he is, trying to do his best with what he’s got. The fact that the play made me think about personal issues means that it’s worthwhile in my book.
When the play started, it seemed as if it wanted to be a Tarantino movie put on stage (the play starts with two Brooklyn gangsters talking to a Southern cowboy - if that weird geographical mix doesn’t scream Tarantino, I don’t know what does). But, I quickly realized that it’s not about the geography, it’s about the dreamer. All dreaming is done from a hotel room - a place far from home. Even after they move to a fancier hotel room - after Cody regains his inspiration and starts producing winners - there’s still this aura of tension, as if nobody quite feels comfortable where they are. But, they’re still being told to dream. They’re still being told to make something great. It turns out that greatness doesn’t just come from dreaming. As YCDS can attest to, greatness also requires a hell of a lot of hard work.