Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The one-man drama begins with Montano as a physically small teenager who idolizes the handsome–and always tall–musicians and actors he sees on the stage and screen. Montano's greatest wish is to be tall, until fate and his mother bring him to the race track at Belmont Park. Instantly drawn to the stunning thoroughbreds, teenage Montano becomes utterly smitten with horse racing and charismatic jockey Robert Pineda.
Pineda proves to be a worthy mentor and Montano a committed jockey. Despite the serious dangers inherent in horse racing, it seems like a dream come true. But as he starts to grow taller–eventually reaching a height of five feet, eight inches–Montano must go to nightmarish lengths to keep the dream alive. Eating disorders, drug use, and excessive exercising are all played out with disturbing felicity on the small stage.
Under Jessi D. Hill's effective direction, Montano's re-creates the most intense moments of his young life. Montano allows the audience to feel the pressure and stress that drives him, the excitement of one especially tense horse race, and the physical pain of driving a human body to its limits and beyond. Montano's performance is impressively powerful. It might even be more accurate to say performances, since Montano plays more than a dozen different characters over the course of the play. Each parent, friend, teacher, and enemy is thoughtfully fleshed out.
The sets come from the original production at Hudson Valley's Penguin Rep Theatre. Christopher and Justin Swader's scenic design is simple, clearly evoking a stable with plenty of room left for Montano to build anything more with his words. It is the perfect match for Hill's imaginative production. Jamie Roderick's lighting design brings added drama to Montano's spiraling tale.
While I would certainly go see SMALL again when another actor takes on the role, there is something extra special about watching Montano's journey on stage and knowing that he really lived it. Even where it was disturbing and uncomfortable, I was grateful to be along for the ride.
SMALL runs through February 11, 2024, at People's Light, Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, please visit www.peopleslight.org or call the box office at 610-644-3500.
Written and Performed by Robert Montano