Rectangles of Astroturf. A leafless blue tree branch, a standing lamp. Four very, very good actors and a script by playwright Amelia Roper. That’s all Taffety Punk Theatre needs to show us The American Dream in ashes.
Taking place in 2007, She Rode Horses Like the Stock Exchange is a funny, bouncing, and all too relevant play about the financial crises that America is still awash in. You laugh, then you wince, then you laugh again while wincing. Lines like “Nothing’s really illegal,” as said by investment banker Max (Dan Crane) to fellow investment banker/nemesis Amy (Jen Rabbitt Ring) sum up the early-2000’s greed that got us into this mess in the first place. And believing it with all his heart is what gets the fellow into the deepest water imaginable.
Set in the round in the impossibly small space at CHAW, the play takes place with four people lounging on a blanket in the middle of a suburban park. Director Kelsey Mesa takes what could be an immobile and claustrophobic 90 minutes and instead turns it into a hairpin ride in a Mustang with iffy brakes.
It’s a beautifully written play by the talented Ms Roper, make no mistake. The action is nonstop; one minute you revile a character, the next you feel sorry for him/her, and tensions and allegiances shift amongst the characters. It’s a financial Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, only each character is every character, alternately attacking and attacked, the dupes and the sharps mixed in all four characters.
Though billed as a comedy, She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange is actually about something serious and important. Several somethings, actually: what happens when money is the be-all and end-all of a relationship; what happens when that relationship is instead ordinary people and their trust is in a large organization. Can an institution, such as a bank, have a ‘conscience’ when the main aim is to make money at all costs? What about those human beings that make up that institution? When does basic, individual morality lose out to the never-ending quest of making more and more money for the company’s stockholders?
She Rode Horses Like the Stock Exchange
closes October 14, 2017
Details and tickets
At first glance, each of the characters is a bit of a stereotype: Max (Crane) in his uncomfortable power suit; Max’s wife Sara (Tonya Beckman) in designer shoes and a snug little red dress clearly not meant for sitting in the grass, Amy (Ring), in her Sunday in the park pearls and capris; and Henry, (Kyd) Amy’s laid back male-nurse-not-a-doctor boyfriend, the only one who looks remotely comfortable in white linen pants, rolled up shirt and bare feet. He’s the ‘normal’ one- the one the audience can most identify with- but he’s mostly normal because he’s mostly uninformed. As were we, back in 2007.
Ring and Kyd, as Amy and Henry, start out the first half of the play alone on that blanket. Initially, there’s a certain amount of voyeurism in watching two people squabble gently in a park; the space is so small the audience is practically on the blanket with them. Director Mesa uses that to its full advantage; small gestures become larger and more meaningful when you can see them up close. They’re joined mid-squabble by Amy’s former colleague Max and his wife Sara. Events unfold to reveal that Max was promoted over Amy at her former firm, and, in a grand example of the Peter Principle, Max has risen at work far over his intellectual capability. There’s a twist at the end- not really a twist, as most of us guessed it long before the denouement- but we feel sorry for him and his shallow, grieving wife all the same.
As I said in the beginning, the four actors are perfection: in lesser hands, what could be stereotypes of The Wife, The Male Banker, The Feminist Investment Manager, The Boyfriend Who-Isn’t-A-Doctor, are instead beautifully rounded portrayals of complex people. And yet, yes, it’s funny, because so much of what they go through we’ve all been through. We get these people.
The play itself meanders a bit, skirting around the edges of the real issues, but perhaps that’s the point. Looking at something via peripheral vision is less painful than looking directly at it. It’s like the sun, only it’s your life savings and your foreclosed house.
She Rode horses like The Stock Exhange by Amelia Roper . Director: Kelsey Mesa . Cast: Tonya Beckman as Sara, Dan Crane as Max, Marcus Kyd as Henry, Jen Rabbit Ring as Amy . Set and Prop Designer: Crista Noel Smith . Lighting Design: Chris Curtis . Costume Design: Jen Gillette, support Amy MacDonald . Sound Design: Marcus Kyd . Stage Manager: Megan Ball . Asst Stage Manager: Julia Smouse . Produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.