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THEATER REVIEW Dutch Masters
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-03-12

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Playwright: Greg Keller

At: Jackalope Theatre at the Armory, 5917 N. Broadway. Tickets: JackalopeTheatre.org; $5-$30. Runs through: April 6

A playwright struggling to assemble one or more dissimilar personalities and keep them in contentious proximity can incarcerate his personae in a prison, a sanitarium or a bunker under siege by hostile outsiders, but East Coast writers since the mid-20th century have displayed a fondness for the New York City subway system as the preferred metaphor for demographic diversity trapped within Stygian mystery.

This explains how we find ourselves in 1992, riding the northbound D train from mid-town Manhattan to affluent Riverdale via a route traversing several poor neighborhoods in the Bronx. Our fellow passengers are Eric, a Black youth resplendent in the latest street fashions and snappy repartee, and Steve, a White youth whose slackerly appearance bespeaks sleeplessness, homelessness or preppy scruff. The former strikes up a conversation with the latter, and after some preliminary banter name-checking race/class/gender, the two disembark to smoke weed in the park, where Steve passes out and wakes to find himself in Eric's cozy family-style home.

Well, you didn't expect mere cultural chiaroscuro to spark tension sufficient to sustain our interest over a whole 80 minutes, did you? Author Greg Keller didn't, and proceeds to introduce a plethora of distractions—among them, a gun manhandled so recklessly that we are sure it's not loaded and a Dutch Masters cigar employed as the wrapper for a joint the size of an exhaust vent. Since the circumstantial history contributing to the bond, brief and unresolved as it is, between the two strangers is intriguing enough in itself to earn our emotional investment, these ill-advised embellishments only encumber our gradual comprehension of the discoveries that will lead both of them to a heartbreaking retribution.

A paint-by-numbers script may have its shortcomings as literary exercise, but its very ambiguity renders it a virtuoso acting showcase. Under the direction of Wardell Julius Clark, the tag-team chemistry generated by Patrick Agada and Sam Boeck for this Jackalope Theatre production strives mightily—and ultimately successfully—to convince us that the growing dread and agonizing realization suffered by our two protagonists arises from a dynamic constructed on revelations manifesting themselves with the inevitability of tragedy.


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