Fully Textured Humans Populate Fresh Ink’s ’Handicapping’
"When you gamble, you either win or you lose; and more often than not, you lose," says director Tyler Monroe about Fresh Ink’s latest production "Handicapping," running January 31 through February 8 at the Factory Theatre. "I think this play is about winning...
"Or trying to, even if you’re a ’loser.’"
There’s a lot of humor and a fair amount of pain, betrayal, yearning in James McLindon’s play about a group of people from a depressed industrial town who spend all of their time, and limited money, gambling on horse races at an off-track betting (OTB) parlor in upstate New York.
"Like everyone around where I grew up," says the playwright, "I would go up to Saratoga for the races in August, perhaps the most beautiful and genteel track in America, but I had rarely gone to OTB. An OTB parlor is an entirely different animal from a real track. It’s a bit like a methadone clinic for bettors..."
The three main characters spend the day betting on the horses. One of them is desperately trying to win enough money to buy a stake in a new pizza restaurant. By doing this, he can stay in a town without many jobs, the home where he grew up, a place that is beautiful to him though the "less discerning eyes of strangers" don’t see it that way.
This is "what happens to a company town when the company abandons it," says McLindon. It’s the "side of capitalism that capitalists never want to talk about, when the invisible hand of the marketplace becomes a fist."
"The cast is truly top-notch," says Monroe. "[They] delicately walk a fine line between humor and heartbreak, and I think audiences are going to be really struck by just how adeptly the play navigates those two emotional realms."
"This show is like an onion. There are so many layers," says cast member Alexander Roy wryly, "and the more you peel away the more you’ll cry."
"The characters that populate [this town,]" says Monroe, "are some of the most well-developed and fully textured humans I’ve ever encountered in a play."
To research his character, another actor, Kyle Blanchette went to Suffolk Downs. "I’ve never bet on horse racing before," says Blanchette. "It was really informative to watch the race with money on the line..."
Everyone involved looks forward to experiencing the audiences’ reactions to the play they have been developing together since last spring. It started out with a reading. Then over the summer, they had a three-day workshop that culminated in another reading with some staging involved. This helped the team visualize the more physical parts of the play and gave the playwright a sense of how the ending worked. With a few more significant changes to the script, they went into rehearsal where more fine-tuning of dialogue and character has taken place.
Though the experience of working with the playwright and actors has been uniquely rewarding for the director, the best part of Monroe’s experience has been working with the Fresh Ink team.
"I love Fresh Ink as an organization," says Monroe. "Their mission is specific and vital, and they’re creatively working to fulfill it... Bringing a new play to life presents a host of unique challenges, and every person involved with the production has been dedicated to navigating those challenges."
"Many aspects of our lives are gambles to some degree," says McLindon, "what career paths we take, which people we love, whether we have children, how we choose to raise them, and on and on.
"These sorts of gambles take years, decades, to play out and the results, whether things worked out for you or not, are often murky. The great thing about a horse race is that it takes two minutes and you either won or you lost.
"The great thing about a play is it takes two hours and you have, if not a clear answer, at least a sense of how the characters’ gambles played out."
Fresh Ink Theatre: http://freshinktheatre.com
Direct Box Office Link: http://goo.gl/8Re2kn
January 31 - February 8, 2014
$20 General Admission (no hidden fees online)
* Playwright’s Night on February 6th
* Date Night February 5th - Buy One Ticket Get One Free & a Free Concessions Package
The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St., Boston, MA