nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
Ponies by Mike Batistick is one of those shows that FringeNYC
does best: an intriguing drama brought to life by a team of strong
actors and held together by a capable director.
August 15, 2003
On one level, Ponies is about the semi-seedy world of one of those Off Track Betting branches that dot the five boroughs. Three men—Drazen (Greg Keller), Ken (Babs O.), and Wallace (Wayne Kasserman)—squabble with one another and the cashier (Nicole Lewis) as they place bets and are thrown into heights of ecstasy or the depths of despair by their success or lack thereof. They tell stories and jokes, trade insults, and try to build themselves up in front of the others. Drazen and Ken are long-time friends, and their relationship undergoes a serious crisis as Ken slowly realizes what has happened to his cab (it seems to have been stolen) and who is responsible. Issues of loyalty and betrayal inform the emotional core of the story.
On another level, though, Ponies is about the hopes and broken dreams of our large immigrant population. Drazen is from Croatia and is naturalized through marriage. Ken is from Nigeria and cannot return for fear of political persecution. And Wallace is here illegally from Venezuela. One of the most compelling and heartbreaking aspects of this play is how quickly the three turn on one another to protect their most valuable commodity: remaining on American soil.
The acting by all four leads is exceptional. Lewis provides a good deal of humor as the feisty and commonsensical cashier, whose verbal duels with Keller are quite memorable. Kasserman imbues his streetwise character with quirkiness, insight, and generosity. Babs O. possesses poignancy, integrity, and strength as Ken. Keller has perhaps the hardest job of all. In the course of an hour, he makes his Drazen funny, pathetic, desperate, proud, and monstrous. He accomplishes each of these shadings masterfully.
Director Brian Roff does an excellent job of keeping the action clear and making the world of the play accessible to the audience. Batistick, like David Mamet with Glengarry Glenn Ross, explores a small and insular sub-culture on stage. And again like Mamet, the playwright uses that sub-culture as the backdrop for a provocative modern morality play.