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Theatre in Review: The Wedge Horse (Fault Line Theatre/IATI Theater)

Charlie Thurston, Ali Rose Dachis Photo: Jacob. J. Goldberg

Three young people are caught in the blowback of 9/11 in The Wedge Horse, a production that serves as a calling card for any number of up-and-coming talents. Maddy, Carlos, and Bobby are high school students from Baldwin, Long Island, and the playwright, Nick Gandiello, wastes no time in ensnaring them in a triangle that will have repercussions for all involved. Maddy and Bobby are siblings, white, and fairly solidly middle-class. Carlos is Dominican, the product of a single-parent household (his mother is long dead) and a sometime member of the Latin Kings gang. None of them is exactly a high achiever: They spend their free time drinking, doing low-grade drugs, and occasionally getting into gang brawls. Gandiello's dialogue is especially strong at capturing the faux-black hip-hop slang that is their lingua franca.

The complications begin when Carlos -- or "Los," as he is known -- strikes up an affair with Maddy. This sends Bobby into a fury, because (a) he doesn't want Maddy horning in on their guy time, and (b) he doesn't wasn't Los, who pretends to be a player with women, to make Maddy his latest conquest. But Los, who only talks a good game when it comes to women, has an indisputable advantage, which leaves Bobby without an answer: "I know how to talk to her about her feelings when she is grieving."

As it happens, both Maddy and Bobby have plenty to grieve about: Their older brother, Sam, was working in the Twin Towers on the day they fell. Since then, the family has become misshapen by sorrow: Maddy and Bobby wear lanyards made from the string of Sam's lacrosse net; these are treated almost as talismans. Their mother wants out, and is quietly shopping for an apartment in Brooklyn. Their father has retreated to the family beach bungalow, shunning the others; the rest of the time, he barricades himself in his home office, communicating with the US Army via email. His correspondence has a precise purpose: He has obtained permission from the military authorities to put Sam's name on a bomb to be used in the invasion of Iraq.

With considerable elegance and economy, Gandiello sets up a psychological tangle in which it is all but impossible for Bobby, Los, and Maddy not to betray each other. Los, who was Sam's close friend, has inherited Bobby and is starting to resent it, even as he depends on the boy to help him get through school; Bobby is uneasy about Los and Maddy's affair and is also caught between his father and Maddy over the bomb plan. "They tried to take [Sam] away from us, but he's still ours," he tells his sister. "And I want this so bad. And Dad won't do it without you. So you gotta decide." Maddy, for her part, doesn't see the point of memorializing Sam with a weapon of mass destruction; her opposition to the plan will lead to a devastating revelation. Bobby does his best to keep Los on the outside of this discussion, but Los is nevertheless affected by his friend's fantasies of revenge against the "towelheads," and, noticing that he has few life prospects, starts to think about enlisting -- an idea that horrifies Maddy.

Gandiello lets all three characters play out their conflicts in a series of brief, incisive scenes that reveal how, as they struggle to grow up in a world transformed by disaster, each choice comes with a steep price. He has also written the rare 9/11-themed drama that is neither mawkish nor pseudo-important. Under Aaron Rossini's remarkably acute and sensitive direction, all three cast members convincingly inhabit their roles. With her bantam stance, bouncy blonde ponytail, and heavily varnished Long Island accent, Ali Rose Dachis' Maddy can be the toughest of customers; she informs Bobby of her relationship with Los with merely a single mordant glance. But underneath is an authentic vulnerability, especially when, sadly mulling over Sam's death, she quietly hopes he wasn't in one of the stairwells, that he "could see what was happening at least." She also gracefully handles the somewhat awkward passage -- far too complicated to explain here -- that keys the title and serves as a metaphor for Maddy's uncomfortable position in her fraying family. Jorge Eliézer Chacón's Los starts out as a breezy, boastful dude seemingly only interested in brawling and brewskis, but, in reaching out to Maddy and revisiting his own sorrows, is transformed into a much more complicated, rueful fellow -- one who suddenly sees the clock running out on his adolescence. Charlie Thurston's Bobby is especially powerful recounting how, returning from a trip with his father to Ground Zero, he suffered a violent panic attack at the sight of a man of Middle Eastern extraction in his subway car. He also charts the delicate line that Bobby walks between his father and sister, both of whose love he desperately needs.

It all unfolds on an overpass on the Long Island Rail Road, a set rendered with exactly enough detail by Tristan Jeffers: You 'll recognize the benches, the yellow warning line, and the signage, especially the directive "If you see something, say something," here defaced by graffiti. Izzy Fields, the costume designer, knows exactly how these young people would dress in that time and place, and provides looks that suit each of them. John Eckert's solid lighting design, working with Chad Raines' sound design, creates effects of passing trains. Raines also blends various hip-hop cuts with his original music and ambient effects including sirens and birdsong. This is my first experience with a Fault Line Theatre production and it is impressive, all the way down the line.

By the end of The Wedge Horse, all three young people are much sadder and wiser. Their little circle may be shattered, but it may yet prove to be more tensile that they imagine. In any case, you realize that staging the action in a train station is a stroke of genius. The truth is, Bobby, Los, and Maddy all have a long, long way to go. -- David Barbour

(4 February 2016)

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