The admirable Thrown Stone Theatre Company in Ridgefield, Connecticut continues its mission of presented new or reimagined plays in its intimate setting with their current offering, the solo show of their new season, “Seven Cousins for a Horse” by Tammy Ryan. Kudos are definitely due to the spirited company for taking a chance and challenging its audiences even with a play that doesn’t always resonate.
Set in 1848 in Colebrook, Connecticut, “Seven Cousins for a Horse” examines the sad life of prolific American folk artist Ammi Phillips (a convincing Will Jeffries) who, after suffering a personal tragedy, finds himself bartering for a horse in exchange for portrait paintings of his cousin’s family. Nisus Kinney (Jason Peck) has several grown daughters and a wayward son and as a “gentleman farmer” wishes to immortalize his family for future generations. The play deals with radical changes happening in the country including abolition and the suffrage movement often voiced by Nisus’ strong-willed daughter, Hattie (Shannon Helene Barnes). How this all affects Ammi, haunted by the deaths of his first wife and young daughter, makes up the drama of the play.
The “drama”, however, often seems staid and rudderless with little forward momentum under Jonathan Winn’s direction. There is much speechifying about slavery and women’s rights usually vocalized by the opinionated Hattie. The play often recalls the far better Mat Smart play, “The Agitators”, which featured abolitionists Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas, and was part of the Playhouse on Park 2022 season. In that work, the conflict and debate moved the story through several years of change. In “Seven Cousins”, the action is confined to the Kinney home over several days and seems inert, dull and unmotivated continuing for 100 uninterrupted minutes with at least three different endings.
The acting company, which also includes Emma Factor, Aidan Meachem, Bridget Ann White and Emmanuelle Nadeau, cannot be faulted as all bring conviction to their roles. Jeffries does not overplay the anguish of his losses but wears it all as natural as breathing and White is a stand-out as the long-suffering wife of Nisus. The farmhouse setting is nicely detailed by scenic designer Richard Harrison and Brenda Phelps costumes are period perfect. I wish Christopher Evans’ projection design did justice to Ammi Phillips beautiful folk art. And I wish Ms. Ryan’s play did, too.
“Seven Cousins for a Horse” continues at the Thrown Stone Theatre Company, 440 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut through July 23. For further information, call: 203.442.1714 or visit: www.thrownstone.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.