Updated: Nov 2, 2019
This play by Burning Palms Productions is an unyielding, ruthless examination of the xenophobic mindset that plagues our society, even in today’s modern world.
Staged in the quaint black-box space of Chippen Street Theatre, The Indian Wants the Bronx is the Australian premiere of a 50-year-old play by American playwright, Israel Horovitz. Set in 1960’s New York, during a period of growing unrest, violent conflict and at the boiling point of the decades-long American Civil Rights Movement, this one-act play tells the story of two street kids (Murph and Joey) and their encounter with a traveller late one night in the threatening streets of the Bronx.
Murph and Joey are your two typical underprivileged street kids, fighting emotionally and physically against the system that has perpetually held them back. Tristan Artin plays the characteristic pack leader, Murph, whose hateful ire is fuelled by a past riddled with abandonment and neglect. His steadfast sidekick, Joey (Elliott Giarola), is just travelling along, trying to establish some sense of normalcy in this terrifying world and is desperate for a leader that can show him a path to emotional stability. Resorting to threats, violence and riotous behaviour as their instinctual method of self-protection, the pair come across enigmatic traveller, Gupta (Rajesh Valluri), and we realise immediately that this story is not going to have any semblance of understanding, compassion or in fact, anything other than what we expect from these characters.
Portraying a role originated by Al Pacino, Tristan Artin embodies his intimidating character with oozes of antagonistic venom that works to make us squirm in discomfort. A greater empathy could have been achieved however if we had been shown a duplicity of character, influenced perhaps by his disadvantageous past. Elliott Giarola demonstrates impressive physical agility as Joey and was the most genuine during the moments where he tried to communicate with Gupta. Rajesh Valluri plays the babe-in-the-woods traveller, Gupta, with a touching vulnerability.
The sound (Kailesh Reitmans) and lighting (Thomas Walsh) elements of the production worked in economical tandem to create an unnerving mood and sensory experience which was generously supported by the aesthetically superb props and set.
Although racism, xenophobia and all matters of unjustified bigotry are most certainly still prevalent today, audience members might argue that, in our progressive social zeitgeist, this material is archaic and that the prejudicial issues afflicting us now, have transformed from those presented in this production. We are better informed, have made revolutionary changes over the course of the last century and are now, 50 years after this play was written, consciously working to continue making empathetic and justice-driven changes in this vein.
The Indian Wants the Bronx is a discussion-provoking production that keeps us on the edge of our seats, cautiously waiting for these characters to reach their breaking point and viciously lash out – we only wish that we were left with even just the possibility of a different, unexpected outcome. Rahel Romahn has brought his vision for this production to the Australian stage in an interesting and provocative way and definitely has a talent for cultivating a potent yet spine-chilling experience.
Watching the play, I felt frightened and uncomfortable (as I think was the director's intention) as the realities of hate-driven violence were laid bare. The cast did a great job of rising to the challenge of this confronting material. I thought the story itself however, lacked depth and complexity in terms of the characters and seemed to be written simply to be a presentation of hate for hate’s sake. I think Rahel Romahn could have made a bigger statement with this work by playing on the ambivalence of character choices and placing a greater importance on nuanced performances. Nevertheless, I always enjoy seeing a foreign production being played to an Australian audience as it gives us the feel of the writing from another culture whilst allowing us to react to it in our own way.
Venue Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale), 24th Oct to 2nd Nov 2019
Director Rahel Romahn
Playwright Israel Horovitz
Production Shots by Shayan
DISCLAIMER: This and all other reviews posted by A Millennial with an Opinion/JTA Official/Jessie Trompp are the honest personal opinions of a theatre-goer and are not reflective in any way of the opinions of others who have seen the production.