by Lynn on May 2, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At various Toronto locations. Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Amos Crawley. Starring: Benjamin Blais, Carlos Gonzalez-Vlo, Steven McCarthy, Brenhan McGibben, Julian Ritchings. Plays from May 1 – May 7.

Produced by Red One Theatre Collective for the Playwright Project.

For the second year in a row a spunky group of theatre artists is banding together to produce seven one act plays of one playwright over one week in seven different neightbourhoods. Last year they did the plays of Tennessee Williams. This year Sam Shepard gets the royal treatment in what is called the Playwright Project.

The mandate is simple:

“Seven theatre companies come together to stage seven one-acts plays by Sam Shepard in seven different Toronto neighbourhoods….Every night for a week, each production rotates to a different neighbourhood (i.e. The Beach, Queen St. West, the Junction, The Danforth), giving each community a unique week-long event, and each company a chance to build relationships with audiences for whom they might not otherwise perform.”

For my first play of the Playwright Project I chose Geography of a Horse Dreamer (1974) produced by Red One Theatre Collective, because I just love the guts and gusto of the company.

It played at Lazy Daisy’s Café on 1515   Gerard Street East.

We are in a sleazy hotel room. Cody is in his underwear, handcuffed to the bed. He is watched over by two thugs, Santee and Beaujo. Cody had a gift—When he dreamt he dreamt of winners of horse races. It made a lot of money for Santee and Beaujo’s boss, Fingers. But Cody’s lost his touch and the thugs are holding him until he gets it back. Then Fingers wants Cody to pick winners of dog races. That upsets him and sets off a chain of events that is both hilarious and gruesome.

We are in true Shepard country. Cody is a good old cowboy. There is dreamy, lyrical writing about the wild west of the United States. Shepard writes of the grit and flint of thugs trying to make due and keep alive. There is an undercurrent of danger, certainly when Fingers and his henchmant the doctor arrive to force the names of winners out of Cody no matter how.

Director Amos Crawley has set up the cozy Lazy Daisy Café with chairs and a makeshift stage that is both functional and clever—a suggestion of a door with a lot of locks and chains is a cast in point. We get a clear picture at how jumpy Santee and Beaujo are just by the door and the locks.

While his direction is tight and evocative, I thought the rumbling soundscape at the beginning was a bit of annoying overkill, but the rumbling wasn’t for the whole of the play. And the use of a local bluesy country musical duo as both the entertainment and two characters in the play was inspired.

The cast is terrific:  Steve McCarthy as the crazed and dreamy Cody; Benjamin Blais as the volatile Santee; Brenhan McGibben as the kindhearted Beaujo; Julian Ritchings as the skeletal and dangerous Fingers and Carlos Gonzalez-Vlo as the quiet-speaking but lethal Doctor.

A quibble….the program is in a font so small you need a powerful magnifying glass and flashlight to read it. Come on folks, we want to know who the talent is and what they play. How about a program we can read.

Other than that Geography of a Horse Dreamer is a dandy beginning to this worthy festival.

Check out the Playwright Project’s website for the schedule and plays and especially “the shoot-out” which is the funniest video of how they chose Sam Shepard as the playwright this year.


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1 Mary Long May 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm

A disclaimer …I am the mother of the director
That said, I thought that the rumbling soundscape prepared us all for the tension that is at the centre of the piece and as such, an extra layer to some excellent direction and acting !
Very proud of Red One and especially of Amos Crawley whose work you will see more and more I’m sure!