Review: “Dead Dog Park” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday March 6, 2016)

February 26, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By Barry Malawer
Directed by Eric Tucker
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Guilt isn’t always a rational thing, Clio realized. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not.” ― Maureen Johnson, “Girl at Sea”

Barry Malawer’s “Dead Dog Park” was first produced in 2012 at the The Philipstown Depot Theatre in Garrison, NY. He wrote the play – his third – after carrying around a newspaper article for ten years about a black teenager who accused a white police officer of pushing him out of a building. In an interview with the Bedford-Katonah “Patch” in February of the same year, Malawer said. “I was intrigued about the implications this would have for the police officer and his family, and the teenager and his family. The play’s themes concern the nature of truth and fate and how those elements play against each other and not necessarily to anyone’s advantage.” The play, currently being revived at 59E59 Theaters, continues to address the same themes and additionally addresses the important question concerning the recent deaths of black individuals at the hands of police officers.

Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Jr., Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray were all unarmed and black and killed by police officers over the past year. And Trayvon Martin was shot in 2012 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. These deaths have sparked a national discussion about racism in America and the alarming number of deaths of young men of color. How do these events impact the lives of the police officers and their families, and the victims and their families?

In “Dead Dog Park” (an actual park in Washington Heights), Police Officer Rob McDonald (played with quintessential amorality by Tom O’Keefe) is accused of pushing thirteen-year-old Tyler Chapin (Jude Tibeau) out of a four-story window. The play takes place in a variety of locations – all represented by a table and a few chairs – and centers around McDonald’s trial for causing serious injury to the teenager. Tyler’s mother Sharonne (played with an appropriate scrappy persona by Eboni Flowers) engages attorney John Jones (played with an ambivalent fearsomeness by Ryan Quinn) to represent Tyler in court and do whatever he can to assure justice is done for her son and McDonald “rots in jail for the rest of his life.” The officer is convicted, Sharonne receives a substantial financial settlement, McDonald’s wife Angela (played with the perfect combination of anger and regret by Susannah Millonzi) divorces him and his partner Officer Ricky Romero (played with cautious affection by Migs Govea) does what he can to support his former partner.

Members of the ensemble cast, under Eric Tucker’s innovative and appurtenant direction, play not only their major roles but also the roles of legal team members. There is no fourth wall here: Mr. Tucker includes the audience into the decision-making process and challenges the audience to grapple with the play’s themes concerning the nature of truth and fate, guilt and innocence, truth and falsehood, justice and corruption, and integrity and deceit. Playwright Malawer offers more questions than answers and engages the audience in the maelstrom of crime and punishment and its accoutrements.

“Dead Dog Park” serves to keep this important discussion going yet it also serves to remind us that nothing is really being done to address the root causes of institutionalized racism and how systemic change can occur. Mr. Malawer’s play raises a multitude of rich and enduring questions in addition to those already mentioned. Why are there abandoned buildings in our urban centers? What is crime? What types of crime require forceful intervention by police officers? What is the nature of truth and how does one discern whether someone is telling the truth? What is a fit parent and does parenting contribute to whether a child commits a crime? The play takes no sides in the discussion; rather, it scatters John McDermott’s impressive bare set with ideas, concepts, questions – all for the audience to consider.

These questions become focused in the stunning and surprise ending of “Dead Dog Park,” a surprise better left undisclosed here. Boz and the Bard and Bedlam have teamed up to present an important piece of theatre that involves the audience and engages the audience in the thrilling matrix of ideas and enduring questions that will somehow determine the quality of life in our collective future.