Whiskey for two

Horse Country

Rated 3.0 Horse Country contains no horses, and there isn’t a cowboy hat in sight. It’s set entirely in a bar, and it features two wordy, aging, all-American guys.

Sam and Bob each wear a suit and tie, with a red flower on the lapel. They engage in a long, lively and ultimately circular conversation, aided and abetted by a deck of playing cards, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a sandwich. They talk about fishing (although you can’t picture either of them in waders), gambling and more.

We aren’t giving away too much if we disclose that no one else enters—you can figure out that much from the playbill. It’s an absurd situation, with lots of existentialist cul-de-sacs in the dialogue, along the lines of “When you consider the alternative, what’s a little confusion?” Or, “I thought, for the moment, that we really had the possibility to do something.” Or, “How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Playwright C.J. Hopkins clearly loves Samuel Beckett. Hopkins also appears to tip the hat to Tom Stoppard, who had Rosencrantz and Guildenstern jabber on while flipping a coin, which always came up heads. Hopkins has Sam and Bob playing cards with a deck that’s short a nine of diamonds. (Or is it?)

The play, apparently the writer’s first, took a prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2002, followed by a London run. The dialogue doesn’t sustain the dazzle of Stoppard’s, and the absurd humor doesn’t exert the scary undertow of Beckett (or Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby, for that matter). But even if it’s not a classic, it has merit—scoring incisive little laughs along the way.

The principal pleasure of this production comes from watching two seasoned locals—James C. Anderson as Sam and Ray Tatar as Bob—as they spin and juggle, always keeping the ball in the air, so to speak. They verbally dance their way through an incredible number of lines over an hour and 40 minutes (without intermission). It has to be strenuous, but they don’t show the strain.

Anderson is particularly good. You’d scarcely recognize him as the actor we’ve previously seen in classic comedy by Molière, or in dramas by writers as diverse as Athol Fugard and Clifford Odets.

Director John Pellman displays a good ear and sense of timing, and the show has a nice, polished look. He continues to chart an interesting new course for Beyond the Proscenium Productions.