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Addiction's tragic effect on family in poetic, cautionary play 'Horsedreams'
NEW YORK (AP) ' The allure of cocaine and heroin has tragic effects for the addict and for their families. But for a sensitive child who's already lost his mother, watching his father slip away into addiction is even more heartbreaking and maddening.
That's the fate of Luka, the 10-year-old, upper-middle-class white boy at the center of Dael Orlandersmith's lyrical, poetic but bleak new play, "Horsedreams," currently performing in a compelling, limited off-Broadway run at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Orlandersmith, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for "Yellowman," her exploration of racial identity within the black community, has structured her new play in monologue format, with four characters telling their stories separately while occasionally interacting.
Luka's loving but immature parents, Desiree, now a ghost, (beguilingly portrayed by Roxanna Hope) and Loman (Michael Laurence, nicely ratcheting up the increasingly harried desperation) begin with flashbacks, relaying the hypnotic story of their New York City club-partying, coke-snorting younger and happier days. Loman, a successful third-generation lawyer, has champagne, cocaine and limousines at his disposal, and the couple wistfully relishes the memories of their wild times out on the town, when they "took the dance floor," and had plenty of hot sex.
They soon marry, but Desiree is quickly bored with Loman, suburban life and motherhood in Westchester County. She begins going out with friends at night, and soon both she and Loman are doing coke again. That leads her to a secret heroin addiction which ends her life in an overdose when Luka is 3.
The second part of the play focuses on Loman's harrowing downward spiral, as he throws himself into his work and more and more frequently needs to "take the edge off." Luka is now old enough to see what's happening and become very angry. Director Gordon Edelstein sensitively keeps most of the histrionics in check, except when Desiree several times steps forward to exhort Luka or Loman to "Go faster and faster!"
Ten-year-old Luka, played with maturity and restraint by Matthew Schechter, hasn't been told how his mother really died. He dreams of riding a flying horse with her, and his weekly horseback riding lessons make him feel close to her again. One borderline overstretched parallel has Luka innocently saying, "I try to ride as long as I can and then the time is up/I have to come down" while his father anxiously repeats the same thing about his cocaine highs.
Luka's caring, African-American nanny, Mira (a forceful performance by Orlandersmith), rounds out the cast as an angry presence. She's furious at the wasted opportunities of wealthy, drug-addicted white people, who have it all but throw it away for the thrill of getting high, while she struggles to make ends meet and takes care of their neglected children.
Orlandersmith has written convincing descriptions of how easy it is to slide into drug dependency, no matter one's race or class. She compares the seductive lure of getting high to the thrill of riding a horse, without actually using the word "horse" as a street name for heroin. Although Loman and Desiree are thinly sketched, they each have some intense monologues, and the high quality of the acting compensates for a few weak plot points.
Despite a few flaws, "Horsedreams" works as a dramatic, cautionary 95-minute story filled with rich imagery and harsh truths that leave the audience contemplating how easy it would be for a life to gradually spin out of control.