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Theater review by Juan Michael Porter II
Who is minding the black caretaker’s son while she is babysitting yours? That’s the discomfiting question framed in Greg Keller’s Dutch Masters. Set in pre-Giuliani New York City, the play borrows its setup—charming bully versus guileless cipher—from Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. On a subway ride, Eric (Ian Duff) recognizes Steve (Jake Horowitz) as the boy his mother used to nanny years earlier; without revealing his identity, he lures Steve back to his apartment to play games of psychological retribution. Director André Holland crafts powerful stage portraits that play on Duff’s swaggering buff blackness and Horowitz’s timid, well-meaning whiteness; their physical interaction suggests a tense game of chess that keeps threatening to spill over into violence or sex.
The actors’ blistering performances all but strip the paint from Jason Simm’s elegantly designed set, but although their star turns yield moments of heartbreaking drama, Dutch Masters remains a one-note issue play. The basic situation is implausible—it is unlikely that any amount of charm could move a 1992 white boy to disembark at 145th Street to smoke a blunt with the aggressive black stranger who keeps interrupting his book-reading reverie on the train—and the back-and-forth interrogation that ensues seems formulaic. Keller is trying for a nuanced conversation about race; having characters who actually spoke to each other would be a good place to start.
The Wild Project (Off-Off Broadway). By Greg Keller. Directed by André Holland. With Ian Duff and Jake Horowitz. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.