New Rep's "Gift Horse": Life's a Bowl of Cello

Alejandro Simoes, Zachary Rice, Obehi Janice & Maurice Emmanuel Parent in "Gift Horse"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

The Gift Horse, a work which premiered almost twenty years ago (an eternity in the theater) by Lydia R. Diamond of Stick Fly and Smart People fame, is finally getting its Boston regional premiere at New Rep Theater in Watertown. For starters, let's establish that just as it's unfair to compare one playwright to another, that should also apply to judging the same playwright at hugely different stages of artistic development. One is tempted to go for the most obvious, easiest and cheapest shot and describe the work as a Diamond “in the rough”, especially given its unrefined unevenness and the evolving style of a relative novice in her early playwriting. If it were merely an object of interest on the progressive maturation of a major writer's talent that would be reason enough to hear and see this piece, but it's so much more than that in such loving hands as this cast and team provide.

The play initiates with the mimed playing of a cello by a character named Jordan (Cloteal L. Horne). The storytelling then focuses on Ruth (Obehi Janice), an artist and teacher with some unresolved issues from her past, moving back and forth in time. Her relationships with her gay Latino buddy Ernesto (Alejandro Simoes) and his new lover Bill (Lewis D. Wheeler), and her therapist Brian (Maurice Emmanuel Parent), as well as Ernesto's subsequent boyfriend Noah (Zachary Rice), form the context of the play. The first act displays some novitiate flaws. It's too talky, with way too much fourth-wall-breaking, amounting to too many mini monologues as opposed to interaction between the characters, like verbal ping pong. It's in the second act that Diamond begins to gleam, showing the promise of what level of playwrighting was to come. It's also when Janice gets to display her acting chops to the fullest. The production, which would be considered lengthy by today's standards (when the commute to the theater can be longer than the play itself), is very well directed by New Rep Artistic Director Jim Petosa, with Scenic Design (in white, black and fifty shades of grey) by Jon Savage, Costume Design by Penney Pinette, Lighting Design by Alberto Segarra, and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay.

Alejandro Simoes & Lewis D. Wheeler in "Gift Horse"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

While one might have assumed that the play's title referred to the famous Trojan horse, (and one of the characters assumes that), it's apparently not that ancient; per the dictionary, the adage means: “don't be ungrateful when you receive a gift or imply you wished for more by assessing its value”, a phrase that would appear to have been first seen in print in Auld English in the 1500's as “don't look a geuen (given) horse in the mouth”. Whatever the origin, you should take its advice and seize the opportunity to see the youthful output of an eventual giant in the theater world today. And any chance you can catch Janice and Parent on the same stage, with a bonus like Simoes or Wheeler, by all means do it. They are the future of our regional theater scene, and are carving out the sort of careers way beyond their youth. It's for more than merely historical curiosity that you are urged to support their work in this era of government by non-artistic philistines. If these artists are the future, then the future is here, and attention must be paid.

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