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A CurtainUp Review
Downtown Race Riot
By Les Gutman
The year is 1976, which of course means that just about everyone is wearing bell-bottoms and hideously patterned shirts among other signs of the times (courtesy of Clint Ramos). It also means, it seems, that there is about to be a race riot in which the boys are supposed to participate on the "white" side (even though one of the boys, Jimmy's best friend (Moise Morancy), is Haitian). The other two friends (Cristian DeMeo and Daniel Sovich) would not seem out of place on "Welcome Back Kotter," had it not been sanitized for television, with a dose of West Side Story thrown in for good measure.
Sevigny, having grown up since her well-documented (by Jay McInerney) time as "the coolest girl in the world," does a fine job as a familiar single mom with two kids and a heroin addiction (what she calls her "conundrum" in the quote above). The real story here is that the young actors surrounding Sevigny — all five of them — are terrific. Yes their roles are for the most part painfully clichéd, but they act the hell out of them as if they don't know it. The final character is an attorney (Josh Pais) who figures in a pointless sub-plot involving a scheme of Mary's to scam the housing authority out of some money by having Jimmy fake the symptoms of lead paint poisoning. Pais makes things interesting and fun (he has his own set of foibles), and has a number of quite funny moments that he handles deliciously.
No play about the 70s would be complete without some musical nostalgia, and sound designer M.L. Dogg supplies just the right amount. This includes the obligatory bow to Janis Joplin who, one might reasonably assume, was Mary Shannon's patron saint.
All of these good things cannot occlude the deficiencies in the play itself. Playwright Seth Zvi Rosenfeld toys with a good many subjects, some of which would be interesting to see fleshed out. I have no clue what point Rosenfeld intended his play to make; any such point is elusive. He tees up multiple topics involving race relations in an urban setting, the dynamics of teen psychology and the interaction of teen children and their drug-addled mother, but he never grapples with any of the stereotypes in an insightful way. (Other sub plots and details seem like a waste of time in a play that runs long for no reason.)
This is a very explicit play (language, nudity, race and the like). I would not call any of it gratuitous, but little that was placed in our face was in the service of much. It's disappointing. There could have been a lot more here than we got to see, and this is particularly unfortunate since the production is blessed with great acting and astute direction (by Scott Elliott). It's a conundrum.
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Downtown Race Riot by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld Directed by Scott Elliott Cast: Cristian DeMeo, David Levi, Moise Morancy, Josh Pais, Sadie Scott, Chloë Sevigny, Daniel Sovich Scenic Design: Derek McLane Costume Design: Clint Ramos Lighting Design: Yael Lubetzky Sound Design: M.L. Dogg Fight Direction: UnkleDaves Fight-House Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, with no intermission A production of The New Group Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd St (9/10 Avs.) Opening 12/3/17, closing 12/23/17 Reviewed by Les Gutman at 11/30/17 performance
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