Fresh Ink’s ‘Handicapping’: More hits than misses

BOSTON — Very often, a racetrack is a place of desperation. Not, perhaps, on a sunny August afternoon when vacationers are sopping up the sun in the elegance of, say, the Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York.
But in an off-track betting parlor when dreams are on the line, very much so.

L to R Laurie Singletary (Prof. Dunne), Alexander Roy (Vin) and  Kyle Blanchette (Ant) in “Handicapping:”. Photo by Allison McDonough

L to R Laurie Singletary (Prof. Dunne), Alexander Roy (Vin) and Kyle Blanchette (Ant) in “Handicapping:”. Photo by Allison McDonough

In James McLindon’s “Handicapping,“ now being performed at the Factory Theatre in Boston through Feb. 8, 22-year-old Ant (Kyle Blanchette) has almost enough money to buy the pizza ovens that will set him up in business in an upstate New York town where 1,500 have just been laid off at a plant that once employed 40,000 people. Think Schenectady, for instance, where General Electric once had a massive presence. In other words, dead ends-ville.
Ant’s son and girlfriend live in Florida, but he has hopes that he will have the means to support them and bring them back up north — if he can only take his bankroll and hit a few races to raise the remaining $10,000 he needs.
Among the other handicappers who are in the betting parlor on a regular basis are Vincent (Alex Roy) a 22-year-old wheelchair-bound friend relying on a SSDI check each month to stay afloat.
Then there’s Prof. Dunne (Laurie Singletary), a former academic at the local college who is a regular despite her pronouncement that that “Handicapping is utterly hopeless,” all of which doesn’t prevent her from soliciting opinions about the winner of the next race.
Angie (Jaclyn Johnson) is the mutual clerk at the betting parlor and knows all the players, including Ant, whom she’d like to know even better.
The mysterious Terry (Gideon Bautista) seems to be cashing every race. Does his handicapping prowess hold the key to Ant getting the money he needs?
McLindon’s characters are well-drawn but the cast, for the most part, struggles to match the intensity of Blanchette as Ant.
I found Roy as Vincent’s spinning around and his incessant wheeling about in his wheelchair in the intimate space that is the Factory Theatre a bit dizzying, and actually distracting at times. Whether it was his doing or the instructions of director, Tyler J. Monroe, it’s just too much for a small space.
But, yes, indeed, there is drama to be had in every race, because there are winners and losers, and McLindon does a good job in ratcheting up the suspense with a series of plot turns that get us fully engaged in Ant’s quest.
I’m going to assume by the pay phone on the wall and the seeming absence of cellphones that the play takes place a few decades ago.
As someone who has been playing the horses for 45 years and as a member of the New England Turf Writers for more than 30 years, it’s impossible to overlook a few technical details.
For one, it’s impossible to bet $8,000 or $10,000 in cash just before the beginning of a race, since each $100 bill — in this case, 80 or 100 of them –would have to be counted and rechecked by hand by the cashier before the bet would be accepted, and that would take time no matter how fast you counted.
And anyone who tried to make such a bet at that time would be strung up by the angry bettors behind him who got shut out of their certain winner.
Ironically, such a bet could easily be made today with a voucher or electronic transfer card with the required amount of money on it.
Again, none of that is on the cast, and that it would probably pass muster with the vast majority of people who see the show.
It’s not perfect, but this Fresh Ink Theatre production brims with energy and enthusiasm.

The Fresh Ink Theatre production of James McClendon’s “Handicapping.” Directed by Tyler S. Monroe. At The Factory Theatre through Feb. 8.