World Premiere Play A CITY OF REFUGE Will Shed Light on Washington Heights Riots
Over 25 years after the often-overlooked Washington Heights riots of 1992, Primitive Grace Theatre Ensemble (Paul Calderon and David Zayas, Co-Founding Artistic Directors) will stage a portrait of the neighborhood at a breaking point in A City of Refuge. Evan Cuyler-Louison's site-specific new play, set in a deconsecrated sanctuary as the church prepares to close its doors, will play the church-turned-performance space The Center at West Park (165 W. 86th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam) for a limited engagement from December 4-22. Opening is Sunday, December 8. Tickets, priced at $20, are available online at https://a-city-of-refuge.eventbrite.com/.
In the midst of a heatwave on Independence Day weekend of 1992, a police shooting on the streets of Washington Heights leaves an unarmed man dead and a neighborhood on the brink of total chaos. In the violence and unrest, a local priest barricades himself inside his soon-to-be-shuttered church, welcoming a small group of parishioners into A City of Refuge. Their number grows, and as more seek shelter from the mayhem beyond the walls of their safe haven, the weary congregation is tasked with staying alive together. These unlikely confederates must reckon with a host of suspicions and secrets as the tension in the sanctuary comes to a head, suddenly echoing the turmoil just outside their door.
A City of Refuge is inspired by the true events of the 1992 Washington Heights riots. On Friday, July 3, NYPD officer Michael O'Keefe fatally shot Jose "Kiko" Garcia, a 23-year old father of two originally from the Dominican Republic. What began as a peaceful protest march led by a City Councilman Guillermo Linares escalated over the course of the holiday weekend, erupting into a full-blown riot across a 40-square block area in northern Manhattan, from where Mr. Garcia was killed on 162nd Street up to the 34th Precinct on 181st Street. Multiple cars were overturned and at least half a dozen set on fire, trash cans destroyed and billowing black smoke, a vacant building set ablaze, and at least 15 people injured and one killed as hundreds of groups took to the streets to voice their discontent.
Though largely overshadowed in the public conscious by the Crown Heights riots of the previous summer and the L.A. riots a mere three months prior, echoes of the discontent stemming from the Washington Heights riots can still be heard today. A City of Refuge immortalizes this tragedy on the stage, urging audience members-many of whom will most likely live in or near the neighborhood where the action takes place-to confront head-on the racism and prejudice that led to these events and continue to fuel similar events across the country nearly three decades later.