When I was 11, I was thrown from a horse into a big fat tree limb, face first, with the unprotected back of my head smashing to rest eight feet below a second later. Somehow, nothing broke, although I sported (and bragged about) two black eyes for a month, and I nurse an abject terror of horses to this day. Irrational, I know, but so are the animals, dammit. Every glue factory in the United States should be named a historical monument in honor of their employees and the dedication to the grassroots justice they exact every day. “Heigh-yo, Silver,” my horse's ass.
Devon Tremore, the central character in MOXIE Theatre's world-premiere Devil Dog Six, is welcome to whatever esteem I might have held for those overgrown feral dogs. And she'll take it. In fact, she can't help herself. Part of the show's premise involves a bunch of her out-of-body experiences into the horse's world and back again. She's a wiry, feisty, win-at-all-costs Louisiana hellcat of a jockey, a female in a man's sport, and she took a fall during a race in which foul play is suspected. In her unconscious state, she's transported to her trainer mom's farm, where she comes to admire the animals' purity and simplicity of thought.
There's a life lesson in this for Devon (Jo Anne Glover), namely that the good-ol'-boy network is no match for raw talent and trust in fate. It's a cute yet compelling concept, especially amid its ideas on women's ambitions in a male world. To boot, six actors play 21 parts, some of which are horses, and the arrangement frames writer Mary Fengar Gail's bigger questions in caricaturist fun.
But there are two types of scenes here-the fantasy stuff, in which Devon communes with the horses, and the realism that those experiences fuel, colored with locker-room humor and sexist diatribe (“Too much ambition,” Devon's father tells her, “is unseemly in a man and downright vulgar in a woman”). That difference makes the conceptual Esther Emery a suitable directorial partner to the meat-and-potatoes Jennifer Thorn. Both women, though, seem content to let Gail's defense of Devon carry the show. They need to draw wildly stark differences between the two flavors of scenes through performance and tech work. Otherwise, Gail's dialogue seems rhetorical and contrived, pining for color and backdrop to justify it.
Tim Parker looks a little like local actor Andrew Kennedy, who would have been ideally suited to these multiple roles. Now, he has to replicate Kennedy's talent. But you can tell that audiences are taking to the excellent Glover with every show she does, and that's a huge factor in MOXIE's favorable prospects. Laurence Brown is also decent as the stable hand who's secretly banging Devon.
The horse that threw me was owned by two brothers who ran the local racetrack my sportswriter dad covered. They were reputable guys, and they later noted that this animal would grow increasingly raggy with age. It was put down not quite a year after it tried to shatter my skull-and it's worth noting here that the fucker was a woman (Bambi by name). The brothers didn't discriminate between genders in their decision to kill it, and that's something the eventually chastened Devon would appreciate. That comes through in this show-now, it needs the sanction of the directors.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of June 10. Devil Dog Six runs through June 30 at The Lyceum space, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. $20. 619-544-1000.
Tony loves Jack
Broadway is inching toward its first billion-dollar year, having scarfed a record $939 million in the recently closed season. There's a local connection to that figure, and it has nothing to do with San Diego's dubious distinction as one of the chief exporters of music-y, glitzy East Coast-style fare.
On Sunday, June 10, Old Globe Theatre artistic director Jack O'Brien took his third Best Director Tony Award in eight nominations, this time for Sir Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, a three-story entry on roily 19th-century Russian intellectualism. He's now won the honor three times in four seasons, having snagged it in 2004 for his direction of Shakespeare's Henry IV and the year before for the hit musical Hairspray, an adaptation of the Jon Waters movie. He also took top Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle honors for Utopia earlier this year.
The Coast of Utopia also won the best play and six other Tonys.
O'Brien, who on June 18 will turn 68, has a monumental flair for visualization, although I've found his actual direction a bit too effusive. But, hey, the man's a Broadway institution and a thoroughly committed steward of popular theater culture, and he didn't get that way by default. Total big ups to Jack-again.