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'Beating a Dead Horse' opens Bloomington Playwrights Project's season


Marcus Kearns, Ali Lidbury, Henry McDaniel, Michael Sheehan and Carina Lastimosa act in "Beating a Dead Horse." Bloomington Playwrights Project will put on the play, directed by Ivey Lowe, Sept. 28-Oct. 14. Emily Eckelbarger

The first-ever fully staged production of the farcical comedy “Beating a Dead Horse” is taking place at Bloomington Playwrights Project.

“Beating a Dead Horse” opened Bloomington Playwrights Project 2017-18 season on September 28 and runs until October 14. Tickets start at $10 for students with an ID.

The play follows the story of two brothers who own a failing pet funeral store. An older woman requests a grand funeral for her prized race horse, offering enough money to save the business. She drops off her horse, but problems arise when the funeral draws close and the horse hasn’t died yet.

“It’s a very farcical play,” Henry McDaniel, who plays Todd, said. “There’s a lot of near-misses and open-door, shut-door kind of farce situations, hoping the other person didn’t see what just happened, and letting the audience in on everything.”

One of the main characters was recently released from prison, and the other has a fiancé that he has been with for over 20 years. All the while, tensions ensues based on main characters' relationships with their father.

“It’s just a really fun, light comedy,” McDaniel said. “We can all take a break from the pressures of every day and just laugh with each other.”

Writer Jenny Stafford got the idea for “Beating a Dead Horse” while reading a newspaper.

“I saw an ad for a pet funeral home and I was like ‘what?’ The idea really held on to me,” Stafford said.

Stafford began writing “Beating a Dead Horse” in 2015, and has workshopped it around the country since. It changes any time new people get involved with it, Stafford said.

“You’re writing it all alone in a coffee shop and you’re like, ‘this joke's hilarious,’ and then you get it in a room of people and you’re like, ‘Oh, this joke doesn’t work at all,” Stafford said. “It’s been really fantastic the way it deepens.”

 “Beating a Dead Horse,” has been awarded the Reva Shiner Comedy Award from Bloomington Playwrights Project. There were some creative challenges in producing a new show, Stafford said.

“The whole play centers around this horse,” Stafford said. “The big challenge is how do you make this horse feel present, and like it’s influencing everything that’s happening without ever actually seeing it? A lot of great sound design, some great horse whinnies coming at inopportune times.”

Despite workshopped productions of the show, this is the first time “Beating a Dead Horse” has been fully designed with costumes, props, sound and lighting. Stafford said she has learned a lot from being in Bloomington and seeing it staged.

“It’s really useful to be here and see it on its feet,” Stafford said. “The pacing of it, where the jokes fall, where the laughs fall. There are some things I’ll probably adjust for the future.”

Overall, it’s an hour and a half to escape life and get immersed in a ridiculous world, Stafford said.

“I hope those people see something that takes them out of the mundane and makes them appreciate the smaller things in life more than they did before they came to see the play,” McDaniel said.

 Next in the Bloomington Playwrights Project 2017-18 season is “Front Page Flo,” premiering December 1.

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