The elephant in the room takes the form of a deer in the latest offering from Mad Horse Theatre.

The adventurous company from South Portland has opened the middle production of its 33rd season with a twisted and transfixing tale of a married couple who come face to face with the limits of their relationship.

Aaron Mark’s 2016 black comedy “Deer” concerns Ken and Cynthia, an upper-middle-class married couple hoping for something positive to happen during a trip to their weekend home. Ken wants a little more romance, so long as it doesn’t interfere with his work, and Cynthia is along for the ride, though she’s obviously reluctant to buy into Ken’s view of their life together any longer.

The depth of the chill between the pair becomes increasingly, and bizarrely, clear when they collide with a deer on the highway. Cynthia, played by Mad Horse veteran Christine Louise Marshall, wants to nurse the animal, which she affectionately names Doe, back to life. Ken, played by guest artist David Heath, wants to quickly dispose of the “roadkill” and move on with his plans for the weekend.

The irrationality of Cynthia’s denial of the fate of the deer is met with efforts by an uncomprehending Ken to settle her down. And then the deer joins in on the already fraught conversation.

Director Stacey Koloski keeps the focus on the recognizable marital issues raised within this play, which is having its New England premiere at Mad Horse. But she also honors the unusual framing provided by the playwright in ways that are equal parts creepy and comical. The craziness of the situation ultimately serves to underscore how relationships can go completely, and sometimes dangerously, awry.


Marshall and Heath take advantage of their broad comic opportunities and, importantly, explore reflective moments within the increasingly overwrought states of their characters. Marshall’s Cynthia hilariously lists for Doe an accumulation of complaints about her life while lying on her back on the floor. Heath’s Ken begins to come apart while bound to a chair and left alone with the bloody animal.

The set is minimal but the sculpted deer, designed by Bridget McAlonan, is a presence felt throughout this unusual play.

It can be sad to see a long-standing marriage nearing its end. The dedicated folks at Mad Horse have put together a strangely entertaining production of a play that explores the subject in a wacky but still moving way.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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