Jarett Karlsberg and Michael Borne in Horatio. Photography by Nicola Mongelli and Andrew Magnes.
HERE, September 15-18, 2010
by David St.-Lascaux
Waiting for a play to start is always a pleasure of anticipation. The lights go down, one’s mind empties and opens, ready for anything. In the case of Horatio, anything is the acoustic novelty of a basketball bouncing on the stage, the plush and pounding, rhythmic drumbeat that carries the imagination, transporting the audience outside, not far, actually, from HERE, the fine, intimate SoHo theater, to the Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground on Hudson, between Gansevoort and Horatio, home court to Mike and Tony (Jarett Karlsberg and Michael Borne), Horatio’s co-protagonists.
Horatio is the theatrical complement to writer Ely Key’s, director Antongiulio Panizzi’s and editor Sam Smith-Stevens’s documentary about the Hudson ball yard and its players, scheduled for release in Spring 2011. Indeed, footage from the documentary-in-progress is presented interstitially between scenes to nicely spliced and atmospherical effect. Life being art, the performance itself was filmed, to be included in the finished documentary.
As one might expect, Tony and Mike are a pair of characters, each playing multiple roles in an intermix of monologs and dialogs. Ever the conspiratorial, audience-aside raconteur, Mike grew up, of course, he says, in the neighborhood, and points us to the park bench on which he smoked his first joint. Tony talks the talk, says he loves to win, lingeringly obsesses when he loses. As the ironically-named character Brooks Brothers, he struts in a too-small suit with an open shirt and jewelry that definitely ain’t da golden fleece.
Two-person plays heavy on monolog put a lot of pressure on the actors. In the case of Horatio, Mike and Tony have it easy because the writing is so good. Attacking Tony, who favors the real estate development (read destruction) of the ball yard, Mike delivers the platinum phrase “monotonize everything”; regarding his failure as a photographer, Tony compares himself favorably to Robert Mapplethorpe: “You don’t see those guys down on the court… and hey, I’m still alive.” Re gentrification: “They opened a yoga-for-babies product shop.” And the patter about the “old guy” players is hilarious: “These guys have petrified forearms…” will give you – “boom” – an elbow in the face. And the guy who had a heart attack on the court – “He died doing what he loved. Maybe it is, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Feel-good humor is a defining thread in Horatio, both on stage and onscreen. An exhausted, tousled “old guy” in the film says, with dry sarcasm, “I always win, even when I lose.” And, although women are not unexpectedly relegated to the status of objects and conquests, the subject of construction worker Pete’s homosexuality is dealt with, first in a set-up wisecrack by Mike, and later by Pete himself, with candor, if resignation.
The play is brilliantly paced and timed. Just when the audience might fatigue from the limitations of the two-actor production, Mike and Tony wordlessly dribble and fake in a surreal interlude to the syncopated cha-cha-cha of “Corazón de Melon,” bathed in subdued blue hypnotic light, choreographed by Jennifer Conley, eliciting a delighted burst of well-deserved applause. And walk-ons by a pair of lineless “femmes” lend just the right amount of relief needed to break the play’s exclusive masculinity: Nina Montenegro a good-lookin’ babe swaying by, and the long-haired Luigi Alonso Santos, a sexually ambiguous would-be player with a big smile.
Life goes on, as Mike says. In the end, the ball yard may succumb to development, or not. But the spirit of the players, spending their time on the court while the world spins by outside, is a metaphor worth considering. Given this smooth and finely staged performance, Horatio’s philosophy may be broader – and more appealing – than bethought.
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