BWW Review: Thrillingly Memorable and Devastating DECKY DOES A BRONCO at The Royal Family Performing Arts Space
When you are a very lucky theatergoer, a play can transport you to a different time and place and age. Decky Does A Bronco is one such experience. A heavy metal playground swing set is placed on a raised stage of green carpeting. On the walls there are chalk drawings. You can see and more importantly feel the surrounding Scottish neighborhoods in the distance. The scenic designer is Diggle who did very memorable work last year at the Tank with Red Emma and the Mad Monk.
Aidan Marshall's exceptional lighting design transports this tale back to a time when the summer days of young boys consisted of horseplay and vivid imaginations. The lights may change color and freeze a moment for emphasis. David (Cody Robinson) narrates his story of five young boys in 1983. He describes himself as a "pathological reminiscer."
This memoir as a play effectively tells the story of one summer which remains an unforgettable, unforgivable and unlucky moment in life. "That's what happens when you look back with an adult frame on things." David is joined by O'Neil, Barry, Chrissy and the titular Decky for daily fun at this particular playground. The swing set challenge of bronco "fills in the gap between Star Wars and football."
Imagine yourself at nine years old standing on a swing in the park. Gaining momentum, you use gravity to make the swing go higher and higher. High enough so that you can use one foot to coerce the swing to fly over the bar while you jump off. A successful bronco completes the revolution without any personal injury. The sound effect from the heavy chains punctuates the victory. The trick is a dangerous combination of vandalism and sport. And a social benchmark for the gang. On the evening I saw Decky Does A Bronco, there was even a spectacular double performed to excited applause and an obviously proud cast!
David tells this story of these boys and their childhood exploits in the park. Chrissy (David Gow) and Decky (Misha Osherovich) are best friends who are always fighting and competing. They have outsized fantasies and the energy of valiant warriors. Barry (Kennedy Kanagawa) spends the summer with his grandmother, biking to this park and trying to break his own record on each trip.
An older (thirteen) outsider named O'Neil (Graham Baker) often stops by. He is "one of those naturally cool people with amazing sporting ability." He can bronco for days. Scenes with these five kids playing and horsing around are impressively realistic and will spark memories of youth, creativity, freedom and competitiveness. All of the adult actors have beautifully inhabited a detailed childlike persona. The situations and assorted hijinks are vividly staged by director Ethan Nienaber.
Decky is the smaller boy and he has less skill in completing a bronco. Narrator David fondly recalls this particular summer and then tries to make sense of a tragic event which is hinted at from the beginning of this exceptionally fine play. There may be a few seconds of heavy handedness in the script towards the end. Do nine year old boys think and speak that way?
The utterly complete capturing of youthful zeal is what makes Decky Does A Bronco so thrillingly entertaining. David notes that this time is prior to the sarcastic period. "Before I knew it, I was being ironic in the morning." Amidst all of the zany fun, a specific incident occurs. Who is to blame? How does it impact such young lives? How does the passage of time help to heal deep sorrow? Do we move on with life? Are we forever changed?
Run to see Decky Does A Bronco. All five actors are perfect in memorably written roles. Douglas Maxwell's excellent play is wildly fun and deadly serious, just like life. We've all said things that we regret at one point or another. Here's a chance to listen to a playwright come to terms with that. I was devastated. Bravo.
Decky Does A Bronco is running through September 21st at The Royal Family Performing Arts Space.