Horse country

Horse Country (United States) by C.J. Hopkins, directed by John Clancy, with David Calvitto and Ben Schneider. Presented by TTI & Clancy Productions at the Studio Theatre (235 Queen’s Quay West). April 16-19 at 9:30 pm, matinee April 19 at 3:30 pm. $35. Rating: NNNNN

C.J. Hopkins is experiencing deja vu. After all, he wrote his play Horse Country during the first Gulf War. Now, a decade later, the play’s receiving a spate of new productions, and one bomb-friendly Bush has been replaced by another.”What’s ironic isn’t just that there’s another war looming, but that it’s against the same guy,” says the playwright on the phone from London, England, where a new production of the play recently opened to raves.

Hopkins, a New Yorker, says he was intrigued by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reconfiguration of Europe.

“Without the Cold War equation, we were suddenly in a one-superpower world, something we had never experienced before,” he says. “There was one operating system, global capitalism, with the U.S. out front and no opponent. It was a time when you could truly ask, “What is this new world going to be?'”

Not that the play provides any neat answers. Two men dressed like vaudevillians or plainclothes detectives discuss everything from playing cards and fishing to seal acts and the film Midnight Cowboy. Running beneath their patter, though, are themes like genocide, despair and the breaking of the human spirit.

It’s no surprise the work has been called an American Godot. Hopkins admits he wrestled with Samuel Beckett’s theatrical legacy.

“What do you write after Beckett?” he laughs. “He once wrote that there’s nothing left to tell. He closed the book on a lot of formal choices. This was the first play I finished, and it’s an attempt to suggest another direction.”

Hopkins calls the two-hander an advanced version of a Monty Python skit.

“Everything’s insinuated,” he says. “There’s not much happening on a literal level.”

The title refers to the old myth of the American frontier, yet Hopkins isn’t comfortable calling it an American play.

“It’s not American in the way a PBS documentary is,” he says. “What interests me is seeing America as the new empire. Right now America is Rome.”

He’s also not quick to add his opinions about the war.

“We’re constantly bombarded by messages and opinions,” he says. “This play tries to make you ask questions. When it’s working, you can feel all the questions alive in the room. The only place anyone can go for answers is within themselves. That’s more exciting than whatever my opinion is.”

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