by Monica Trausch · December 11, 2014
As Meg Ryan sings in Sleepless in Seattle, “horses, horses, horses.” The absurdity of that moment and my referencing of it in this review mirrors, I hope, the joyful, hilarious absurdity of Jenny Rachel Weiner’s Horse Girls, playing at the cell on West 23rd Street until December 19. With music, hilarious choreography, and a whip-smart script, this fresh, outrageous play, directed by Sarah Krohn, is familiar yet completely new and entirely worth checking out.
Horse Girls begins with a meeting of the Lady Jean Ladies, a horse riding friendship club helmed by a deliciously mean preteen, Ashleigh. Ashleigh has everything a seventh grade girl could want: money, her own horses, trophies from her horse riding wins, a house servant, and a group of admirers, her friends and lackeys, the Lady Jean Ladies. This weekly meeting of the Lady Jean Ladies is already off to a rocky start, as Camille and Brandi are late. Lateness, and anything short of excellence, does not fly with Lady Jean Lady President Ashleigh. Camille finally shows up with her outsider cousin Trish, who, like the audience, thinks this whole horse obsession might be just that—a (borderline-unhealthy) obsession. When Brandi arrives with devastating news, the Lady Jean Lady’s existence, and maybe even their lives, are revealed to be at stake. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of plot, because the joys in this piece when you watch it—and watch it, you should—are the surprises around every corner. If the story and characters seem almost trivial, you’re not watching closely enough, as this is a play with depth, nuance, truth, and surprise.
In a climate where gender parity is only just getting mainstream attention, it is exciting, inspiring, and necessary to see theater that is written by, directed by, and featuring a cast of all women. We need more plays that allow theater artists who happen to be women to play, and a theater space like the cell that presents new and exciting work is a model for creating a place at the table for women.
Horse Girls is about the absurdity of youth. We, especially young girls, are put in an impossible situation: to maintain our joy and innocence while being told to grow up fast, to become sexual creatures, and to pursue excellence at any cost. Sometimes these pursuits, coupled with naiveté of childhood, have drastic, even violent, consequences. Preteen girls are violent to each other, be it literally or figuratively, using their words and criticisms like daggers, pushing each other up and down on a constant ride of emotions. And this play portrays all of those ups and downs with precision, humor, and absurdity. But as absurd as Horse Girls is, it rings frighteningly true. The acting is superb, the script hilarious, the directing purposeful, the set, costumes, and attention to detail remarkable, and there is a song dedicated to Ann Romney. Need I say more? Go see this play!