Peeling back the upper crust

Horsey People

By Brent Askari
Directed by Laura M. Stevens
The Vital Theatre Company
432 West 42nd Street, 3rd fl (592-0129)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 18)
Review by Sheila Mart

Horsey People is an entertaining and amusing piece of fluff aimed at poking fun at the wealthy classes of Virginia. It is to Brent Askari's credit that he has managed to accomplish this by successfully satirizing a somewhat shallow subject, in a play peopled with shallow characters.

What story there is concerns an upper-crust, dysfunctional family: Sydney (Diane Grotke) the mother, Horace (Bolen High) the father and their spoiled, egotistical daughter Brittany (Leigh Pittard), all of whom live on an isolated estate in Virginia. Sydney is a manipulative woman who has, over the years, has forced Brittany into becoming a competing horseback rider against her daughter's real desire to study and play music. Sydney's motivation for pressuring her only child appears to be based on two things: her need to be revered among her wealthy peers, and her desire to avoid her husband Horace, whose protests about her obsession with material things go widely ignored. In another milieu, Sydney could be described as your typical stage mother; she's so desperate to have her daughter win the upcoming competition that she persuades Horace to kill the horse of one of Brittany's competitors. Probably to keep the peace, Horace agrees to the plan. The horse's death horrifies Brittany (as well as Horace) and further extends her animosity toward her mother. As a result of his action, Horace is haunted by the ghost of the horse Morning Sparkle (Ted Rodenborn), who is unseen by everyone else in the play. Eventually there is a questionable resolution using this device.

Into this rarefied, privileged atmosphere enters the stable boy Jake (Jeff Patterson), who, needless to say, falls for Brittany. The feeling is inevitably mutual, much to the dismay of Sydney, who believes Jake is unworthy of her daughter. Sydney then tries to stop this possible romance. She brings in an old schoolmate of Brittany's, Cyril (Colin Fickes), a typical blue-blood nerd, and tries to set them up. There is a surprise to the play's conclusion that the audience may or may not buy, though it nevertheless illustrates the author's inventiveness.

The performances of Grotke, High, Patterson, Pittard and Rodenborn were all credible; but Fickes, as the least-likable character, was superb. However, the Virginian accents came in and out with the tide; the one exception was Horace, who announced early on that he was from Boston. Yet he held no trace of a Bostonian accent. It would have been far more satisfactory if no accents were used.

Laura M. Stevens's direction was fast-paced and perfectly suited the mood of the piece, while the carefully casual look of the costumes, especially Brittany's riding outfit, were well executed by Staci Shember. The sound design by Bill Grady was fitting, in that all the actors were audible and the background music worked.

Obadiah Savage's lighting and set design were excellent, using a set of leather chairs, a couple of tables, a few pictures on the walls and a white curtained backdrop to bring a feel of moneyed elegance. The lighting certainly complemented this setting.

Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Sheila Mart