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The Wedge Horse

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Jorge Eliézer Chacón, Ali Rose Dachis, and Charlie Thurston
Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg

Loss compounds several times over, and with stinging consequences, in Nick Gandiello's new play The Wedge Horse, which just opened at the IATI Theater Mainstage in a Fault Line Theatre production. This drama about a brother and sister trying to cope with the personal and political ramifications of the September 11 attacks while a new war brews in Iraq is serious and well-intentioned, but also soft hitting, as though it's not able to give proper voice to the many things it's obviously thinking and feeling. When a play wants to tie together as many disparate strings as this one does, with divorce, racism, and the intractability of the Long Island Railroad among the other elements in the mix, that clarity of purpose is crucial, and its absence keenly noticed.

At least in weaving together his story Gandiello has ensured that his characters suffer from the same malady—and with people it's rather more palatable. How else could it be with Bobby and Maddy Shoreman (Charlie Thurston and Ali Rose Dachis)? They idolized their brother, Sam, who was their senior by about five years, and when he died in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, some part of them was murdered, too. At the time of the play in 2003, they're looking forward to life after high school, coping with not just plans for the future but also two parents who, breaking under the strain, are on the verge of a split that could rend their fragile family still further.

Sam was always the favorite son, as it were, and Maddy's status as daddy's little girl left Bobby the odd one out. He's longing to live up to his father's ideals, and the promise that Sam represented, and sees the ideal opportunity in the chance to carve Sam's name on a bomb that will be dropped over Iraq (as part of the deal, though, Maddy must agree). More parent-child and brother-sister issues arise by way of Carlos (Jorge Eliézer Chacón), Bobby's close buddy who has recently begun romancing and sleeping with Maddy and is more than a little attracted to the idea of enlisting in the army to escape the streets that are slowly but surely killing him and make his deceased father proud of him at last.

They're all trapped, figuratively as well as literally; the freedom they long for is represented by New York City (never mind what that freedom cost Sam), but they're natives of Baldwin, Long Island. Tristan Jeffers's set, in fact, is a scrubby LIRR platform, and lighting designer John Eckert and sound designer Chad Raines have done an admirable job of creating the unseen trains that shoot past with the promise of better things forever somewhere else. The comings and goings that lead there soon become integral, as all three have to search for good reasons to either remain where they are or leave—and deal with the others' choices as well.

There is at once too much and not enough going on here. The myriad complications facing the trio are sometimes improbable (the ultimate outcome of the bomb question and the exact nature of Carlos's relationship with Bobby are particularly unlikely) and sometimes too low-stakes to matter; much of the stress between the three unfolds offstage and is merely dealt with on, and rarely with much focused fire. Gandiello and his capable director, Aaron Rossini, could well be arguing that Sam's death has left nothing tangible for these kids to grab on to, but the writing is so cool and distant that that doesn't come through.

Similarly, when these tough-talking, unrefined people wax philosophical (the title refers to a story Maddy tells about seeing one horse loaded backward into a truck to prevent others from falling out during transport, and Carlos unaccountably verges on the poetic near evening's end), it stretches credulity: Are Bobby, Maddy, and Carlos irretrievably lost causes or caged birds who can sing anywhere other than Long Island? The play seems to want to have it both ways.

The actors, particularly Thurston, whose Bobby is attractively gawky and gruff, the crystal-clear picture of a boy forced to grow up too soon, are unquestionably committed, and work feverishly to straighten out their characters' untidy layers. They're not able to do much with the iffy political subplot (Dachis does not smooth over the rough edges of Maddy's faux-confused moralizing nature and eventual about-face), but they do craft compelling pictures of youngsters tangled up in questions that could decide not just the course of their lives, but the others', and, for that matter, those of people they'll never meet in some anonymous Middle Eastern city.

It's a burden that weighs on them, challenges them, and promises to rip them apart if it's not dealt with in the right way (assuming there is a right way), and that gives The Wedge Horse the minimum amount of weight it needs to work, if not thrill or devastate the way Gandiello clearly wants it to. If all the pieces don't come together, enough do that we see the stopped hearts and stilled potential that define these three as victims almost as much as Sam. No, we can't see where the effects of this kind of tragedy end, where the ripples will ultimately end. But when he's at his best here, Gandiello shows us the inception point, and by extension the futility of trying to stop what emotional complacency, mixed with bad-old-fashioned chance, sets in motion.

The Wedge Horse
Through February 21
IATI Theater Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street
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