Downtown Race Riot
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Theater review by Raven Snook
Struggles of the past can sometimes offer insight into present problems, but Downtown Race Riot, set in gritty 1970s New York, is as stale as a week-old bagel. Inspired by a 1976 incident in which a gang of mostly white youths “defended” their turf by attacking people of color in Washington Square Park, Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s hackneyed drama takes place in real time, as teenage delinquent Pnut (David Levi) grapples with whether to join his pissed-off pals or stay home with his drug-addled hippie mother, Mary (Chloë Sevigny). Complicating matters is Pnut’s best friend, Massive (Moise Morancy), who’s Haitian-American but wants to join the rioters, believing his neighborhood ties supersede his race.
That last part, inconceivable though it may sound, is true to life; there was indeed a black man among the attackers. It’s also the most interesting aspect of Downtown Race Riot, which otherwise indulges in clichés as liberally as Mary does heroin in her tapestry-covered bedroom. The New Group’s subpar production—which includes comically on-the-nose design, unconvincing Noo Yawk accents and strangely slack staging by Scott Elliott—exacerbates the play’s flaws. Tension should mount as the onstage clock ticks down to riot time, but you’ll likely be counting the minutes until you can leave.
Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). By Seth Zvi Rosenfeld. Directed by Scott Elliott. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Dec 23.