Off the heels of reviewing some racially charged pieces this summer, along with the recent controversial court case that gave the nation pause and still graces our media outlets daily, I wasn’t overly anxious to review another play that explored race in America. But confident in Azuka Theatre Company’s reputation for fine works, the final preview of Greg Keller’s DUTCH MASTERS soars to the top of my list for poignant dramas this summer that I have had the privilege to attend.
On the heels of a 1992 mayoral election, DUTCH MASTERS is the story of a New York subway encounter between two unlikely strangers, with plot twists and turns that leave one surprised with every stop between Rockefeller Center and our final destination in a meager one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. Brandon Pierce as the loud in ya’ll’s face youth Eric “befriends” the fearful and advantaged Steve from Riverdale (Brendan Dalton). What unravels is a story that, to paraphrase the masterful captain of this ship Kevin Glaccum, Artistic Director of Azuka, added to this white girl’s discomfort, made me sit up and pay attention, and left a pit in my stomach.
In Glaccum’s program note, he struck a nerve. Having been a daily commuter on the New York City Subway for 10 years, I’m well acquainted with loud, provoking youths who are just dying for a confrontation on the rails. A couple times I gave into the temptation, quick to temper, and short on patience, the result was never good. I could have had my throat slashed a couple times, so this daunting story is very relevant to me. But these encounters happen every day, on both sides of the racial divide, and not just in urban transportation settings, and one wonders how the temptation to stereotype, distrust, even seek vengeance is avoidable, as it should be.
Playwright Keller was born and raised in Manhattan, and currently resides in Brooklyn; he no doubt has witnessed or partook in these kinds of encounters. His commentary on this taboo subject is brilliantly articulate, albeit uncomfortable, which of course was his intention. He not only explores pre-conceived notions and stereotypes through the splendidly drawn characters Steve and Eric, he pierces our very conscience with their collision.
Brendan Dalton and Brandon Pierce received a well-deserved standing O, their commitment from moment to moment on stage was captivating. They both left me breathless with their honest performances. The chemistry between them, the apt way they played off each other, no doubt guided by Glaccum, should inspire any young actor. The Hip-Hop and Rap preshow music added just the right urban flavor to get one in the mood for a subway story. A powerful drama that leaves one wanting more – go and treasure this piece, I doubt you’ll ever forget it.
by Greg Keller
Directed by Kevin Glaccum
Sept 11 – 22, 2013, show extension TBA
1636 Samson St
Press Note: The show is set to run as part of the Neighborhood Fringe in the 2013 Fringe Arts Festival September 11 – 22, 2013; Opening Night is Saturday, September 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$25 and are available online at www.fringearts.com or at the Fringe Box Office