The Tricycle Theatre in London has a fine record of producing plays written by black Americans, as witness last year's English premiere of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson. The latest in this line-up, The Day the Bronx Died by Michael Henry Brown, is a good deal longer on worthiness, however, than on dramatic flair or penetrating insights.
It opens abruptly, with the motiveless shooting of a 13-year-old, middle-class black boy. His father Mickey (Ewen Cummins) then emerges and acts as our guide to the bulk of the play which consists of flashbacks to Mickey's own 13th year in the Bronx of the Sixties. The memories of this watershed period are offered as an explanation for what he became: a black who got out, made good and fatally fails to remember. 'By getting out I forgot and by forgetting I never gave my one son the instruments to survive in this jungle.'
Simply staged, though given to a teachy feel by Gordon Edelstein's production, the episodes from the past unfold against a background of escalating black on black violence as thugs from the rough Housing Projects terrorise the youths from the self-bettering areas. We see how the loyalties of young Mickey (attractively played by Thomas Goodridge) come under strain. He has two best friends. One is Alexander 'the great' (Andrew Fraser), a likeable toughie who goes to the bad and joins the thugs when his father loses his job. The skimpiness of the way his experience is treated (he dies a precipitately heroic death) alerts you to how little the play is willing to see society from the point of view of the black no-hoper.
The other friend is a somewhat idealised figure, a Jewish boy (Nitzan Sharron) who, in the play's best scene, scoffingly exposes the limits of his liberal father's vaunted commitment to truth telling. The boy wants to go to the police and identify the gang responsible for the murder of a black cop. The Jewish father doesn't want to lose his son but, in urging him to keep quiet, loses him a little anyway. A painful, subtle moment in a welter of broad brush strokes.
'The Day the Bronx Died' is at the Tricycle, London NW6 until 8 Oct. Booking: 071-328 1000
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