Although the play I am featuring in this column today is about to close at 59E59 Theaters, I am certain it is going to have a life elsewhere. You should know about it.
The play is Small, and it is a one-man piece written and performed by the very engaging Robert Montano.
Small tells the story of Bobby, a boy from Long Island with a diminutive stature, who in his dreams aspires to be Bernardo, the tall and lean character in West Side Story. In reality, Bobby is simply dismayed by his height. Raised by a Puerto Rican mother and Italian American father, Bobby, the smallest in his class, prays for growth. But when he is introduced to the world of horse racing and learns about the occupation of jockey, he begins to embrace and celebrate his size, recognizing that small is good.
Montano takes us on his personal journey as he meets the most unusual and colorful characters at the racetrack. Mentored by an accomplished jockey and warned of all the pitfalls that he may encounter, Bobby’s thirst for getting on a horse and racing is palpable. He goes to the racetrack daily before school, learns the business and yearns to race, which he eventually does.
Although being short is necessary in this field, his body has other ideas, and as Bobby grows, he now prays to remain small. Staying underweight is also required and he goes through punishing methods to be extremely thin. His obsession is the central part of this story. Small is a unique look at the intense passion and brutal physical dedication required to work in that profession.
Beautifully directed by Jessi D. Hill, Montano does a masterful job of portraying each character; from his mother’s accent to that of the Mexican jockey, his father’s bracing energy to the southern cracker at the stable and many more.
The set by Christopher and Justin Swader works very well in this space and Montano navigates it with grace. Also exceptional in this production is the outstanding sound design by Brian Ronan. The sound truly lifts the story and works in concert with Montano’s lithe and beautiful movements. Between his choreographed moves and the sound effects, we believe Bobby is on a racehorse, taking that horse down the track.
When he has punished himself beyond the point of reason, Bobby realizes he can no longer physically remain in the field. That’s when he finds his way to dance and the Broadway stage. I only wished we had seen more of that portion of his life as it lightened up the production. Maybe that will be in Small 2.
The producing company behind Small at 59E59 Theaters is the Penguin Rep Theatre, now in its 45th year of operation. Housed in an 1880’s barn in Rockland County, the Penguin’s mission is to represent new voices and develop new plays, often moving productions that have received their world premiere at the Penguin to off-Broadway and houses around the world.
Keep the Penguin Rep in Stony Point, NY on your radar. And definitely stay on the lookout for another production of Small.