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Small, an autobiographical one-man show by stage, film, and TV actor and dancer Robert Montano, unfolds the frustrating story of a supposed underdog who appears to receive every conceivable lucky break. At the play's outset, the teenage Bobby stands at four feet, six inches, fervently praying to grow taller. However, a chance visit to Belmont Racetrack alters his trajectory as he discovers the world of horse racing, where jockeys, small in stature, exude a masculine charisma that captivates young Bobby.
Through local connections, Bobby secures an unpaid position with his idol, jockey Robert Pineda, exposing him to the rugged world of horse racing. As Bobby grows up within the stable team's care (and neglect), his profound passion for horses and the exhilarating racing culture becomes evident. Unfortunately, his increasing commitment to the sport coincides with his physical growth as he reaches five feet, eight inches. Despite Pineda's emphasis on maintaining a weight of 105 pounds through diet and exercise, Bobby turns to drugs, disordered eating, and intense physical exertion to meet the stringent weight requirements.
The play climaxes with a crucial race where Bobby must shed 12 pounds overnight, a harrowing sequence masterfully recounted by Montano, marking the pinnacle of the 85-minute performance. Montano, portraying all roles, exhibits affable and charismatic performances, with varying depth and nuance in his portrayals.
Under the direction of Jessi D. Hill, Montano excels in vividly enacting horse races, creating engaging and well-paced scenes. However, the play falters in its last 15 minutes, delving into Bobby's decision to leave racing for a career as a professional dancer. This underwritten sequence, bizarrely emphasizing Bobby's heterosexuality, suggests an effortless transition to a full-ride dance scholarship and a role in Broadway's Cats.
This neat ending contradicts the play's ethos, seemingly at odds with Bobby's herculean efforts in jockeying. The physical production, retained from the original production’s 2022 premiere at Hudson Valley’s Penguin Rep Theatre, remains effective and evocative, with Christopher and Justin Swader's dynamic paddock set illuminated by Jamie Roderick's lights. Despite its flaws, Small offers a compelling exploration of Bobby's tumultuous journey through the highs and lows of horse racing and self-discovery.
Know before you go: Small is recommended for ages 14 and up. It contains depictions of disordered eating and drug use.
What, When, Where
Small. By Robert Montano, directed by Jessi D. Hill. $47-$52. Through February 4, 2024, at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. (610) 644-3500 or peopleslight.org.
People’s Light is a wheelchair-accessible venue, accommodates service animals, and offers a range of audio and visual aids. There will be a relaxed performance of Small on Sunday, January 28, at 2pm, with ASL interpretation and audio description. There will be open-caption performances the weeks of January 20 and February 4. Visit People’s Light’s accessibility page for more info.
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