Love Horse

Bryn Magnus
Unan!mous Cohort
White Bear Theatre
(2009)

Bryn Magus is a Chicago playwright whose nickname (he says) is Brink Madness. Love Horse is certainly a very zany piece of work but that doesn't mean it isn't meant to be very serious. However I suspect it needs a lighter touch than director Max Jerschke brings to it. To aid him and supplement his work he has involved not just a fight choreographer (Lawrence Carmichael who's done an excellent job) and accent coach but a movement director and a Meisner Coach. Writer Magnus has a way with words that verges on poetical and an imagination that verges on surreal in the way it mirrors American life; a heavy post-Stanislavsky approach to acting does not seem the way to get the best from it.

I felt strongly that this was meant to be a critical look at those aspects of American society it eclectically embraces and exaggerates and that the dramatist intended it to be funny. It did get a few laughs but they seemed more at the production rather than with it and certainly there was no indication from the performance itself that we were allowed to laugh. Surely when you put this mix together it is meant as satire?

There is a trio of men, not all of them confident in their sexuality, who earn their living making 'interventions' performing a mix of butoh and choreographed menace to frighten debtors - they specifically target doctors and dentists - to encourage them to pay up to loan sharks. There is a pair of scientists who take cosmetic surgery to its ultimate extreme in genus-bending operations, an adopted person wondering who he really is and a lunch counter waitress who spends her time studying her customers looking for Mr Right.

A simple setting - the theatre's walls painted with white clouds and blue sky (designer Alison Neighbour) suggests that perhaps it should be seen as someone's dream - or their nightmare, and the opening scenes certainly seem nightmarish. A girl lies on the floor loosely covered with a towel, at a knock on the door she gets up, somewhat agitated, takes off her shoes, rearranges something before opening the door, a man slips in stands looking at her, eventually they come together, she flings herself around him, they roll around on the floor - all this in silence - when she is on top riding him and strokes his hair he nervously shakes her off and bolts out of the door. In the dark three men perform a ritual in front of a man in a dressing gown. He is made to watch as they tear of clothes and appear to start to have sex before everything explodes into a violent punch up.

Scene changes echo the balletic ritual with furniture borne floatingly through the air and highly stylized movement. There is just a hint that the actors are actually sending this up, but it's not strong enough to be sure that the director means it to be self parody.

When a couple of elderly scientists appear (Julian Bird and Kathryn Worth, who could be straight out of something by Ben Jonson), there's a change in genre with a definitely tongue in cheek style of playing. When start they identifying members of the audience at close range face to face as a Pit Bull Terrier and a Siamese Cat surely they should get a proper laugh, but, as fantastication escalates, bemusement rather than amusement seems to be the overall effect. It is not the actors' fault: with Martha O'Toole and Simon Desborough as the waitress and the man she fancies, Lawrence Carmichael and Grant Ibbs as his business partners and Francis J Exell as the bankrupt dentist, this is a hard working cast who drive the show with enormous energy - and quite a bit of risk!

These days we seem to be getting ever more interested in working out exactly who we are and where we come from. Genealogy and self-discovery are fashionable ideas at present and in a way this is a skewed look at those concerns. I've hinted at the key element of the plot, which is the reason for the title (and no, it's not sexual fetishism) but to tell you more would be to give the game away and remove all element of surprise.

Magnus has invented some intriguing kinky characters but never really explores them; scattering his fire across targets that range from cocaine addiction and the irresponsibility of science for its own sake to the further reaches of academic theatrical pretension it doesn't really score any bull's eyes. A companion found it tedious and claims was only kept awake by the hard bench and the shouting but I was intrigued, always expecting it to develop into something much more interesting. Sadly it never really got past being a series of clever workshop exercises, performed full out but not really leading anywhere.

At the White Bear until 13th December 2009

Howard Loxton