ArtsATL > Theater > Review: Stellar acting in Aurora’s “Tamer of Horses” can’t overcome tepid, cliched script

Review: Stellar acting in Aurora’s “Tamer of Horses” can’t overcome tepid, cliched script

Anthony P. Rodriguez (left) and Dane Troy. (Photo by Mark Hesslegrave)
Anthony P. Rodriguez (left) and Dane Troy in Aurora Theatre's Tamer of Horses. (Photo by Mark Hesslegrave)
Anthony P. Rodriguez (left) and Dane Troy.
(Photo by Mark Hesslegrave)

At the core of the play Tamer of Horses is a sweet story of how a family tries to rescue a young man in need, but the journey never becomes palpable in Aurora Theatre’s new production.

Now running through March 2 at Aurora as part of the company’s Harvel Lab Series, Tamer of Horses is an adaptation of William Mastrosimone’s  drama. Hector (Dane Troy) is 15 and illiterate, having escaped from a youth detention center. He has been hiding in the barn of Ty (Anthony P. Rodriguez) and Georgiane (Maria Sager) Fletcher on their farm. When Ty finds him, he is angry until he understands the boy’s situation. The three eventually bond, especially Ty and Hector. Ty, a former teacher, tries to educate the young man and teach him to read. Georgiane, also a teacher, is more leery but seems to enjoy cooking for an appreciative Hector. Better yet, she likes seeing her husband passionate about helping the young man.

It’s a compelling set-up, but the undeniable flaw of this work is that it strains credibility. It doesn’t seem believable that the couple would take Hector in and keep him, especially as they learn more about him and Hector’s behavior wavers between appreciative and belligerent. Ty reads Homer’s The Iliad (hence the title, complete with metaphors sprinkled throughout) to the young man and it supposedly has an effect.

Playwright Mastrosimone is best known for his early ’80s play Extremities, starring Susan Sarandon and later Farrah Fawcett. After debuting this in 1985, he then reworked it almost a decade later. In his new version, he’s changed the character of Hector to African American and given the work — and the character — a rap feel. Hector is full of confidence and plans to launch a rap career and make millions. He also gives Ty a lesson on street life. It makes for a few amusing sequences but not enough to warrant the overhaul.

For all its intentions, the play is filled with clichés and dialogue that seems overtly earnest. “This kid is screaming for someone to treat him like a human being,” Ty tells his wife. And later Georgiane pleads to her husband to “come down from Mount Olympus some day,” referring to his ethical high horse. Director Jaclyn Hofmann does what she can — working with Lee Maples’ straightforward, clean set — but the material seems secondhand.

It’s a shame the production doesn’t really click because it squanders a very convincing turn by Rodriguez — also the company’s producing artistic director — as a father figure, someone very much into doing the right thing. The backstory of why he is no longer teaching is intriguing. Ty means well, trying to reform the troubled youth, and under Hofmann’s watch, Rodriguez’s sentiments never feel phony.

His costars aren’t able to match him. Troy is a young actor who has some charm and presence, but isn’t really able to give Hector much depth. It may be debatable how much arc Hector really has, but he seems almost the same person he was at the play’s close as he was at the beginning — albeit better fed. Alas, the character of Georgiane is not well-etched and Sager’s flat performance can’t alleviate it. One moment Georgiane is demanding Hector leave and seconds later she has done a dramatic about face, almost flinging herself at the young man at the thought of losing him.

Aurora Theatre, over the last few seasons, has produced some of the most exciting theater in the area. It’s nice to see the company stretch and present more programming in their smaller 86-seat Peach State Federal Credit Union Studio stage, but Tamer of Horses unfortunately never really hits its stride.

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