The Basement (fmr. Silo)
July 23-August 1 | Reviewed by Renee Liang

“Every now and then… strangers break into our carefully arranged worlds, leaving us with no point of reference, no language, no understanding…” This is the program’s introduction to the closeted world devised by Medlock and Musgrove in their two plays, Spurs and Blinkers. Each two-hander play is complete in itself, but the link is the performers, and the fact that both involve horses.

As writers, Medlock and Musgrove are masters of observation. As actors, they reproduce the minutiae of human behaviour – the little gestures and habits, the hidden obsessions that come out in moments of tension. The plays are funny – but not because there are any rip-roaring jokes. The laughter is more the guilty, slightly shamefaced laughter that happens when you realise that the pathetic character being portrayed on stage is more like yourself than you’d care to admit.

The first play, Spurs, starts by setting up the familiar cliché of the Western: a wounded hero lost in the desert, cacti, unseen enemies. And here I have to ‘fess up to a prejudice against Westerns (I never understood the Man Alone type, and wondered why the girl never got to do anything except be rescued). But Spurs somehow drew me in with its eye for oddity and human foible. Medlock plays an Indian squaw who has a bag full of unlikely objects including a BBQ fork and a jar of pickles. It is never explained how she got these objects, nor how Musgrove’s character, Jonny Buffalo, got shot.

We meet these characters at the point where Jonny Buffalo is paralysed and dying, trapped in the desert by the death of his horse, and he is found by the squaw. From here the play takes on the kind of dreamlike quality that might occur if someone was dehydrated and dying: time is indefinite, illogical things happen, ominous thundering hooves approach and then fade. A change occurs when the squaw, having examined Buffalo’s body and stripped it as if he were already dead, starts mimicking his frenzied rantings about his family, his prejudices and his fears of death, reproducing his English words right down to the cartoon-American accent. Buffalo never really realises that all she is doing is mimicry, and instead responds as if she were really speaking to him. It’s a clever framing of the universal experience of two people trying to communicate who can never really understand each other.

Blinkers is set in a more familiar theatrical medium: an apartment block. The feeling of dislocation returns quickly, however, when we meet the characters: Amy (Medlock), a “part time ticket collector, full time wannabe rock star” and Monty (Musgrove), a nerdy obsessive who spends his time drawing horses and talking to his porcelain steed, Chester. Although the language and music are contemporary, the situation and characters are somehow timeless. I enjoyed the novel use of the stage in this one: two characters crisscrossing each other in space as they go about their daily lives in upstairs/downstairs apartments. In this play too, a lot of things are left unexplained. For example, how does Monty earn enough to pay the rent? and why is Amy is so scared of answering the phone? But this mystery adds rather than subtracts, and might be part of the reason why both plays stayed with me for several days afterwards. When Amy and Monty sit down to dinner, the stage is set for a clever and funny dissection of how two people interact on a first date – much magnified by the oddities of the characters.

Although I wondered if Medlock affected the same vulnerable, blank-faced stare for all her characters, her persona as Amy is as mesmerising as her characterisation of the Squaw. Musgrove too is consistently good as an actor, although his characters are definitely squirm-inducing. Together, Medlock and Musgrove are a potent combination, taking risks that ultimately pay off.

Go and see A Horse Story: Blinkers and Spurs. It’s work that is intimate, funny, and will keep ticking over in your brain long after you leave.