Steeplechase by By Chris Nelson
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
A young woman goes on a rocky lifelong voyage of experimentation and self-discovery in Steeplechase, Chris Nelson’s offbeat but fun new “dark comedy” being presented at the Hudson Guild Theater as part of New York Theater Festival’s Summerfest 2019.
The play draws its perfect title from two sources: a ride at the old Coney Island amusement park that featured mechanical horses running along a track, and an Olympic obstacle course race. Despite the similar names, the first race always delivers its riders to safety, while the second is full of hurdles and potential pitfalls. Viv (Ariel Lauren), the central character of the play, is always searching for the first experience, but all too often winds up with the second.
Raised near Coney Island, Viv becomes addicted to drugs, addicted to abusive men, and addicted to the kind of pain that comes from feelings of worthlessness. Despite her repeated rejection of an actress (Allison Pappas) who plays her yet-unborn daughter, Viv finally wearies of the heartbreaks and humiliations of the high life and settles down with a dull but sweet guy who actually cares for her, and finally embraces the little girl, along with a traditional family life. In many ways, the play resembles a modern-dress version of the musical Pippin.
Nelson’s script treats the subject with a knowing humor that often breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges the audience. Director Maridee Slater’s fluidly kaleidoscopic staging keeps Viv and the story sprinting along from hurdle to hurdle. When she needs to bring in Viv’s mom ex machina, Amy Laird Webb comes crawling up to the stage literally over the backs of the audience, like some monster from the id.
The nine-member cast also includes Valerie Redd, James O’Hagan-Murphy, Amy Laird Webb, Rob McDermott, Joel Reyer, Schuyler Van Amson, Tyra Hardy, Cristina Lucas and Allison Pappas. Costume design is by Corina Chase. Lighting and set design are by John Salutz. Moody original music is provided by Mitch Wells, who leads the cast in a pre-curtain freestyle dance.
Steeplechase is playing a limited run through August 25 at the Hudson Guild Theatre in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.