New York City was junkie heaven (and hell) in the 1970s, an era that Dael Orlandersmith views from an unconventional perspective in “Horsedreams.” The dope addicts in this harrowing tale are no hopeless ghetto lowlifes, but high-flying Wall Street yuppies who recklessly play with fire because they think they’re invincible. Although there’s inherent drama in watching the disintegration of a young married couple who become hooked on hard drugs, the lack of theatricality in the presentational style proves deadly.
In what is essentially an extended aria, a red-headed beauty named Desiree (Roxanna Hope) takes us through the steps of her descent from a party girl with a nose for blow to a pathetic junkie with a hot needle in her arm. After Desiree’s grim death, her husband, Loman (Michael Laurence), a successful corporate lawyer with both feet on the fast track, picks up the narrative with another endless monologue chronicling his own descent into junkie hell.
Both thesps sweat it out, under Gordon Edelstein’s direction, to bring some nuance to Desiree and Loman. But both characters are so shallow, so lacking in self-awareness, that it’s almost impossible to work up some sympathy for them.
With everyone talking in monologues, there isn’t any drama to speak of until the playwright introduces her other two characters: the couple’s preternaturally intelligent 10-year-old son, Luka (a wonderfully natural performance by the amazing Matthew Schechter), and Luka’s nanny, Mina (given a heartfelt performance by the playwright).
Luka and Mina are willing and able (and smart enough) to challenge Loman’s delusion that he’s just “taking the edge off” his anxieties and is “totally in control” of his drug habit. But instead of letting Loman off the leash so he might at last interact with another human being, Orlandersmith keeps him in aria mode until he succeeds in talking himself to death.
The raw material for this piece is strong stuff. But it cries out for a more dramatic form.