SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA, July 11, 2017 – Although audience buzz has it that Allison Gregory’s “Wild Horses” is the hit of the Contemporary American Theater Festival’s 2017 Edition, we’re placing it at roughly the middle of this year’s pack of new American plays.
That said, your critical mileage may vary. Starring the versatile Kate Udall as the drama’s protagonist, this one-woman show, is chock full of youthful Late Boomer / Early Gen X antics, amply seasoned with rock and punk rock nostalgia. Along with a generous dollop of dysfunctional family antics, this creative mix is tossed into a blender, and voila! Out pops an extended shaggy dog story that keeps the audience in stitches even as they reflect on their own embarrassing family secrets.
We’ve just told you that Kate Udall stars as this show’s central character. But that’s fake news. Udall soon morphs into an additional ten characters or so, portraying them and their signature quirks as deftly as an alien shapeshifter changes disguises. It’s an impressive performance.
Fortunately, Udall’s style flows naturally and effortlessly. Fully embracing this play’s central character, she spins her stories and anecdotes from the viewpoint of a fictional but recognizable contemporary mom whose childhood exploits – related here – are fast receding into the distant past. Udall is a born storyteller. Inhabiting her character, she draws on her recollections of the past as a means of improving – hopefully – her character’s attempt to be the kind of mother she never had.
At its core, Allison Gregory’s one-woman show is a classic female coming-of-age story, joined at the hip with theater of the absurd. Although the play weaves back and forth in time, its core involves trio of close friends who almost compulsively indulge in plenty of youthful hijinks, including an attempted dangerous liaison or two, teenage-style. Sadly, their parents tend to exhibit their own lack of maturity at the same time, frequently leaving the three amigas to grow up and learn about life on their own.
The ultimate fallout, at least in this extended one-act play, is the girls’ elaborately flawed plan to stage an epic rescue of a small herd of domestic horses. This plot – the central story in the narrative – is set in motion after the girls uncover evidence that the horses’ owners are either starving the animals to death or at least shamefully neglecting them, and leaving them to fend for themselves.
The animals have essentially become the aimless, rootless “Wild Horses” that give this play its title. But can also fairly deduce that our three adolescent would-be heroines are “wild horses,” too, set adrift by careless parents to discover the essence of life and adulthood on their own.
“Wild Horses” becomes a more personal experience courtesy of Jesse Dreikosen’s ingenious set design which incorporates an actual, functional, life-size mobile food coach into the setting along with a few tables scattered, cabaret-style, to create an al fresco environment. Better yet, some of the audience is actually seated at the tables, putting them within the action of the play. Better still, the food coach is fully functional, peddling snacks to any and all comers before the show begins.
The setting helps set the table, as it were, for this funny, entertaining and often wise theater piece. Allison Gregory’s drama closely follows the ancient tradition that a poem or work of art both “delight and instruct,” and it succeeds on both accounts, particularly in the former.
“Wild Horses” doesn’t reach down deep in an attempt to reach the profound. Yet in our age of political hysteria and wild overreactions to nearly everything in life, this play’s fairly laissez-faire approach to human complexity is just the antidote to high seriousness. Its message seems to be, “Just relax. Things will probably turn out OK in the end.”
Rating: *** (3 out of 4 stars)
To order tickets to Contemporary American Theater Festival, and for additional information, visit CATF online at www.catf.org or call the Box Office at 1-800-999-CATF (2283). Box Office hours are Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. Single tickets range from $35 to $65. Packages range from $120 to $305. For more details, follow the CATF link above or check our CATF preview piece here.
Festival continues through July 30, 2017.