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The Gift Horse

by Kilian Melloy
Monday May 8, 2017
Alejandro Simoes, Zachary Rice, Obehi Janice, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent in 'Th eGift horse,' continuing through May 14 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown
Alejandro Simoes, Zachary Rice, Obehi Janice, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent in 'Th eGift horse,' continuing through May 14 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown  (Source:Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

This early Lydia Diamond play shows some sparkle but also feels like a one-act with a sequel tacked on as an afterthought.

"The Gift Horse" follows the lives of Ruth (Obehi Janice) and her gay bestie Ernesto (Alejandro Simoes) from their formative college years through the tumult of adulthood. Relationships swell and ebb, but the bond between Ruth and Ernesto remains a constant, even when their ties are strained by simultaneous struggles that make Ruth unavailable to Ernesto just when he needs her most.

Act One is a lovely story in and of itself; nicely rounded, well balanced, and -- save for the presence of a mysterious young woman called Jordan (Cloteal L. Horne) -- pretty much self-contained. As Ruth and Ernesto venture out into the world and develop personally and professionally, they discover that not everyone out there is as true or as kind a friend and life partner as they are to each other. Ruth is attracted to her therapist, Brian (Maurice Emmanuel Parent); Ernesto falls head over heels for the too-good-to-be-true Bill (Lewis Wheeler).


Obehi Janice, Maurice Emmanuel Parent  (Source:Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

To find out who Jordan is and what bearing she has on Ruth and Ernesto's lifelong friendship, we need Act Two -- and this is where the going gets a little rough. The second act picks at and extends the story threads that came before, and introduces a late-breaking character, Noah (Zachary Rice). That's all well and good except that the tone, pacing, and energy of Act Two feel completely different from Act One -- hence, the feeling that what would have been a perfectly good one-act play has been artificially (and not quite artfully) plumped into a two-act piece. An exposition-heavy final scene gives the entire work a rushed and unsatisfying sensibility.

That's not to say there's nothing worthwhile here -- quite the contrary. Diamond's script depicts life in a jaggedly realistic, open-ended, and slightly lopsided way, and the characters face some genuine -- and genuinely troubling -- romantic questions along the way that pluck at resonant themes of ethics, betrayal, and life-altering trauma. If the shape of the play feels out of true, there's no doubting the piercing, dead-on emotional honesty that Diamond achieves.


Alejandro Simoes, Obehi Janice  (Source:Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

The cast live up to the task of bringing the characters to life in all their flawed glory. Obehi's Ruth is far from perfect -- she's a shattered, struggling soul -- but she's the sort who never gives up, and that alone earns our love and admiration. Ernesto's flaws are not quite was visible, but he endures a harrowing journey, and Simoes just about breaks your heart.

Parent plays a character whose past includes a romantic crater a mile wide, and yet he's big enough in heart and soul to contain all that and plenty more. Wheeler's Bill could seem annoying or creepy -- and indeed Ruth is initially weirded out by how perfect he seems to be -- but it's with a light and fluent touch the Wheeler establishes and inhabits the character.

Horne's character doesn't come into focus until quite late in the play (and by then you have her figured out, so the surprise has leaked away) but in Horne's reading Joprdan lands lightly on her feet. Most challenging of all might be the part of Noah, who doesn't have as long to


Alejandro Simoes, Lewis D. Wheeler  (Source:Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

win our affection -- but Rice succeeds in making Noah instantly likable.

Jon Savage's scenic design operates on multiple levels, providing the physical bones for the production, while Alberto Segarra's moody lighting and Dewey Dellay's sound design add atmosphere and texture. Penny Pinette's costumes fit both the characters (Ruth's sweater and Ernesto's suit reveal volumes about who they are and who they're going to be) and harmonize with the production's overall color palette, which ticks to a tasteful darker scheme of grays, blues, and earth tones.

Director Jim Petosa brings out the best in the script, going with the flow and investing solidity and specificity even in Act Two's spottier moments. Narratively, the work might not feel all of a piece -- but the lives contained within it retain their continuity and deliver an impact.


"The Gift Horse" continues through May 14 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown. For tickets and more information please go to http://www.newrep.org/productions/the-gift-horse


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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