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Off Broadway

He Says: Downtown Race Riot Pnut’s Slightly Inauthentic Gallery of Characters from the 1970’s New York

He Says: Downtown Race Riot Pnut’s Slightly Inauthentic Gallery of Characters from the 1970’s New York
Moise Morancy, David Levi, Daniel Sovich

Moise Morancy, David Levi, Daniel Sovich Photo: Monique Carboni

I knew nothing about that hot summer day in 1976 New York City when a mob of young men, all white except for one, gathered together in Washington Square Park armed with pipes and bats, and attacked every person of color they could find. It’s a piece of New York history that isn’t told often. Probably out of shame and discomfort. New York likes to think of itself as beyond such things, but it clearly wasn’t back in the 1970’s, and isn’t now if you look at the spike in hate crimes. Playwright Seth Zvi Rosenfeld (Everythings Turning Into Beautiful) tries to shed light on the then and now in Downtown Race Riot, the new play getting a solid introduction at The Pershing Square Signature Center from The New Group. The play chronicles a personal crisis in loyalty and family that engulfs the Shannon family on the day leading up to this infamous riot. It parallels quite tellingly the tension and rising levels of hate that permeates this country today thanks to the Orange Monster in power, and tries to make sense of what really is important to us all.

Moise Morancy, Sadie Scott, Chloë Sevigny

Moise Morancy, Sadie Scott, Chloë Sevigny. Photo credit: Monique Carboni.

Directed with focus and clarity by Scott Elliot the Artistic Director of The New Group (The Whirligig, Evening at the Talk House), the stellar cast that includes Chloë Sevigny (“Boys Don’t Cry“, TNG’s What The Butler Saw) try its hardest to ratchet up the tensions within this two bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, beautifully created by set designer, Derek McLane (TNG’s Sweet Charity) and lighting designer, Yael Lubetzky (Broadway’s Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam). It explores an attempt by a hippy-esque mother, Mary Shannon, strongly played by Sevigny, struggling with her own demons of addiction and abandonment, to bring her two grown children up within a circle of love and acceptance. Her daughter, the creatively constructed Joyce, played with focus and strength by Sadie Scott (“CRSHD”) has an open mind but a negative view of this life and a strong desire to disconnect from her upbringing. Mary’s grown son, Jimmy “Pnut”, portrayed with an authentic swagger by David Levi (Off-Broadway’s 2016 Death of a Salesman), seems to have digested some of those feelings of acceptance within the racist world he lives in, but his rage against society still seethes under his skin. His best friend, Marcel “Massive”, portrayed with a simple elegance of naivety and charm by Moise Morancy (“Happy”), is the one black man who wants to be included within Pnut’s tribe even when the racial hatred that will be enacted upon later that day will be against the black community. His rationale is that the black community never embraced him like this family and the band of young men he calls his friends, and therefore he owes them nothing in terms of allegiance. Little does he know, that the very tribe he believes he is a part of has some other plans for him, and it basically falls on Jimmy to try to alter the planned and violent outcome that is slowly approaching.

Moise Morancy, Sadie Scott

Moise Morancy, Sadie Scott Photo: Monique Carboni

Stuffed into this overly complex and fictitious scenario, is a seemingly banal plot of Mary, who is jobless and on disability, trying to further exploit the system by suing the city for lead poisoning of her obviously healthy teenage son. It seems to be trying to show us that even those with a solid education and in a position of authority are as messed up as those struggling to make ends meet. Bob Gilman, the lawyer, played with a comic edginess by Josh Pais (“Synecdoche”), who the mother has enlisted using everything she has in her arsenal, stops by the apartment with more on his mind than a civil lawsuit. It’s a distraction to the building tension within this time-is-a-ticking structure. It doesn’t help keep us tuned in completely to the dynamics even as it’s being funny, diverting, and telling, but Mary and her son’s traits have been pretty solidly constructed by this point, so in the end, it feels pointless.

Josh Pais, David Levi, Chloë Sevigny

Josh Pais, David Levi, Chloë Sevigny Photo: Monique Carboni

It’s a strange brew that is being constructed. The time period is solidly executed, thanks to costume designer Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Once On This Island) and sound designer M.L. Dogg (Public’s Here Lies Love), and while the cast, which includes two other angry young men; the handsome and intense Cristian Demeo as Tommy-Sick and the less defined Daniel Sovich as Jay 114, do their job with intensity and focus, the play never really feels urgent or dangerous. I’m not entirely sure why it doesn’t register as fully authentic, but my guess is that somewhere the real emotionality is lost in the overly wordy dialogue. The framework and the dialogue never really bring this drama completely home. The ending, which should have felt powerful and thrilling just left me wanting a tiny bit more to chew on. The adrenaline of a riot never heats up within the lives of these West Village residents. Downtown Race Riot never feels entirely real or as edgy as what we can read about that hot summer day out on the streets of downtown New York City. It never feels like this Riot gets going.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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