Downtown Race Riot: Pnut’s Slightly Inauthentic Gallery of Characters from the 1970’s New York
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.
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. (for the full review, click here)