Review: Kicking A Dead Horse

By John Nathan, September 19, 2008

Almeida Theatre, London N1

It all went wrong for Hobart Struther after he became a successful art dealer. And now here he is stranded in the middle of the desert, his "quest to find authenticity" on hold while he digs a grave for his "deader than dirt" horse who snuffed it after his oats went down the wrong way.

It seems that writer and director Sam Shepard - that chronicler of dysfunctional Midwestern America, who like Hobart is in his mid-sixties - is taking stock.

At 70 minutes, this is a short play, but one long monologue. Addressing the audience, himself and his horse, Shepard's hapless hero, played by Stephen Rae with agitated melancholia, finds himself in a confessional mood.

Hobart is a man in late-life crisis, haunted by a sense of insignificance, goaded like a schizophrenic by his alter-ego, fearful of loneliness and disillusioned by the deals that made him a millionaire. His life in New York has left him with the sense that he has betrayed his Midwestern roots.

But the desolate imagery deployed by Shepard is so similar to that used by Beckett, it is impossible not to think of Beckett's Happy Days - although that play is stalked by mortality. All Shepard can summon is absurdity.

When Hobart's list of American achievements morphs into a catalogue of American crimes - such as invading sovereign states - there was a moment when Shepard's play appeared to be a hymn to the lost American idyll.

I even thought we might be watching a eulogy to the white American, Midwestern, macho male who won the West and whose values and numbers are about to be overhauled by America's darker skinned immigrants.

But no. It is really a play about a depressed bloke, his dead horse and with more hole than content. (Tel: 020 7359 4404)

Last updated: 6:39pm, September 18 2008