Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s “Downtown Race Riot,” presented by the New Group, opened Sunday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is tepid despite its starry and talented cast.
Transported back to Greenwich Village, circa 1976 we arrive at the apartment of Mary Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) an unfit, heroin-addicted mother of two. Mary survives on disability payments and the goodness of her 21-year-old daughter Joyce (Sadie Scott) and 18-year-old son Jimmy (David Levi) also known as Pnut (peanut). Mary’s newest scheme’s includes a seedy; coke addicted lawyer (Josh Pais) and getting her son to lie about eating paint chips.
In the meantime Pnut, is being asked to go to Washington Square Park to rumble with the Hispanic and “blacks” who are taking over the neighborhood and he does not want to go. His best friend Marcel “Massive “ Baptiste (Moise Morancy) does and tries to convince Pnut to join. Marcel is a Haitian who has leaned how to become a part of the group or at least he thinks he has. Italian-American Tommy-Sick (Cristian DeMeo) and graffiti king Jay 114 (Daniel Sovich) come over to make sure the two attend.
Though this is based on a true incident that happened in Washington Square Park in 1976, nothing about this show is really action packed. Yes, we get sex; nudity, drug use and a fight that is a little scary due to the proximity of the stage and seats, but nothing that begs “watch me.” The best scene is between Ms. Sevigny and Mr. Pais who make a coke addicted sex scene amusing and real.
Mr. Levi, brings a sincerity to his role as we see his heart, as he longs to care for the people he loves, despite it always being a losing situation. Ms. Sevigny and Mr. Pais bring humor and Ms. Sevigny brings realism to her character that is sad and pathetic. Daniel Sovich almost steals the show with his swagger.
Scott Elliott’s direction is well done for the space, but when your text is so mundane instead of biting into the subject, how much can you do?
The costumes by Clint Ramos and the set design by Derek McLane put you right in the moment. The problem is, this isn’t a moment we want to revisit.
Downtown Race Riot: Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W 42nd St. until December 23rd.