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BWW Review: A 1976 Attack in Washington Square Park Inspires DOWNTOWN RACE RIOT

Despite its provocative title, and despite a game effort by director Scott Elliott's ensemble cast, Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's fact-inspired drama Downtown Race Riot is a bit of a bore.

Downtown Race Riot
Chloe Sevigny and David Levi
(Photo: Monique Carboni)

In 1976, a police-estimated group of twenty young men, mostly white, ran through Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park swinging baseball bats, chains and pipes at bystanders before dispersing less than ten minutes later. Their purpose was to send a warning to black and Hispanic people who they say were invading their neighborhood; particularly drug dealers who were infringing on their territory. One man was killed and another suffered a fractured skull and loss of vision in one eye. Eventually, three of the attackers were found guilty of manslaughter, and three others of lesser charges.

The comparatively uneventful issues driving Rosenfeld's play are whether or not 18-year-old Jimmy, a/k/a Pnut (David Levi), will be convinced by his friends to join him in the mayhem, and whether or not Jimmy can convince his best friend Marcel, a/k/a Massive (Moise Morancy), to join him in sitting it out. Marcel is Haitian, and he wears a red bandana on his head so that the white gang members will know that he's one of them.

The play is set in the apartment where Jimmy lives with his free-spirited, heroin-addicted mom, Mary (Chloe Sevigny), who doesn't mind giving some cheap thrills to her sleazy, coke-addicted lawyer (Josh Pais) in exchange for setting up a phony law suit, hoping to land a windfall by claiming that Jimmy ate paint chips from the apartment's walls as a child.

Downtown Race Riot
Moise Morancy and Sadie Scott
(Photo: Monique Carboni)

Mary's daughter, Joyce (Sadie Scott), who identifies as lesbian, nevertheless takes Massive to her room for sex. Designer Derek McLane's railroad apartment assures that the audience sees everything going on in each room.

Italian-American thugs Tommy-Sick (Cristian DeMeo) and Jay 114 - that's his graffiti tag - (Daniel Sovich) aren't happy when they arrive and find Pnut reluctant to join them at the park. Eventually there's a full-out brawl in the apartment involving almost everyone, during which, at least at the performance this reviewer attended, Sevigny gingerly taps someone on the head with a break-away bottle, causing it to shatter.

Given the cliched characters and flat dialogue, that was pretty much the dramatic highlight of Downtown Race Riot.

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From This Author Michael Dale