Juergen K. Tossmann & Rita Hight in I Bet On The Nag.
Photo courtesy Bunbury Theatre.


I Bet On the Nag

Written by Juergen K. Tossmann
Directed by Gene Pelfrey

Reviewed by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Have you ever wondered why there hasn’t been a theatre piece written about horse racing at the iconic Churchill Downs? Well, wonder no more, as Juergen K. Tossmann has come to the rescue with his new play, I Bet on the Nag.

On the stage, we see a very good replication of the box seats that one would use at Churchill Downs, complete with nine chairs borrowed directly from the track. There sits Wheadon Papajohn (Juergen K. Tossmann), looking through the day’s Racing Form and contemplating his wagering plans for the day. His inner monologue is audible through a pre-recorded audio track. As the track announcer (Matt Orme, offstage) reveals changes to the race day lineup, Vita Prim (Rita Hight) comes to join Wheadon in the same box.

We can quickly surmise that Wheadon knows a little something about horse racing, while Vita does not. Conversation between the two characters starts out innocently enough, but Vita’s quirkiness begins to irritate Wheadon, especially as it pertains to questions about how one bets.

Thanks to Mr. Tossmann’s dialogue, I learned more about different styles of wagering and the nuances of horse racing than I ever imagined.

Despite Vita’s demeanor, it is made especially clear through the inner thoughts and spoken words of each character that they are developing a fondness for each other that is building slowly and respectfully. I will say that some of the funniest lines run a little blue, as does some of the sexual innuendo, but nothing is explicit or overt.

Throughout the whole of the play, many names are dropped and walls begin to break down between the characters. As great as that is, a sustained relationship other than friendship between Wheadon and Vita would seem a little too forced.

I enjoyed Wheadon’s dedication to his adopted family at the track (that being the Backside). Kudos to Bunbury and Mr. Tossmann for bringing the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs a bit more into the mainstream consciousness. Not many people know of the work that is done in that little community. I also appreciated Vita’s realization of how she has misinterpreted people because of fear, which comes with a redeeming surprise at the end.

I enjoyed this piece very much, but I will say that the second half felt a bit long, especially during the race. The characters worked best when they were exchanging information and/or suggestive remarks.

Hats off to the design team, as they effectively captured a day at the track. Unfortunately, however, it was hard to hear the pre-recorded inner monologue at the beginning. The costumes for Wheadon and Vita were perfect, right down to how Vita’s shawl/sweater would slip off her shoulder.

So if you want to know what the real lyrics to “The Old Gray Mare” are, or if you are interested in a hotly contested political debate with a side of sarcasm mixed with Derby and decadence – come see Bunbury Theatre’s I Bet on the Nag!!!

Bravi, Tutti!

I Bet On The Nag

April 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, & 16 at 7:30 pm
April 10 & 17 at 2:30 pm

Bunbury Theatre Company
at The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 585-5306


AnnetteAnnette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.