Dead Dog Park opens moments after a black 13-year-old has tumbled from a fourth floor window. Did he fall as the white police officer who was with him suggests? Or was he pushed as the youth’s mother and others suspect? This critical question is examined over the course of the next 70 minutes with dramatic and traumatic results.
During this time, we as audience members have multiple opportunities to weigh our own prejudices. Is one life ever more worthy than another? And if so, what tips the scales for each of us? As with the many true life cases we have seen in recent headlines, no matter what happens there are no real winners. A boy will still be critically injured, a hard-working policeman’s life will remain in ruins and two families will never be the same.
Barry Malawaer’s script keeps the storyline tight. Tom O’Keefe imbues policeman Rob McDonald with a powerful range of emotion that fittingly never settles for too long. As the boy’s mother, Eboni Flowers strongly plays both offense and defense in equal measure. Lawyer John Jones is given a quick tongue and worldly wisdom by Ryan Quinn. The weak link is Susannah Millionzi as McDonald’s wife Angela, though it’s hard to say whether the role or the actress is at fault.
BEDLAM productions, which brings this work to 59E59, specializes in the utilization of raw, flexible space. Director Eric Tucker nods to the black box by having his cast occupy the stage simultaneously with different players defining the scene as the precinct, the policemen’s home, a lawyer’s office and a court room. While artistically interesting, this technique often forced the actors to be positioned at odd angles to one another. Without the proper eye contact, they didn’t appear to be listening to one another and therefore couldn’t react as deeply as I felt was necessary.
This is the second play about racism that I have seen in a short span. Here this theme is spoken of less directly than in Smart People. In many ways that makes this piece more honest and powerful since the subject tends to be more of a subtle undercurrent in our daily encounters. If you appreciate having your own standards on the subject tested, spend some time in Dead Dog Park.
Dead Dog Park is presented in association with BEDLAM at 59E59 Street Theaters through March 6. Visit http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=232 for tickets and information.