Photo by Daniel Davila
Written by Douglas Maxwell
Directed by Ethan Nienaber
Assistant director Morgan Hahn
Set design…………… Diggle
Lighting design…..Aidan Marshall
Sound design………Cody Hom
When it comes to boyhood, everything that really matters happens on the playground. At least that’s how it through the lens of adulthood, with the mixed blessing of a greater knowledge of the world and its discontents.
Cody Robinson, who gave a starkly memorable performance in 2017’s Vietnam drama OCCUPIED TERRITORIES, stars as both the grownup and nine-year-old incarnations of the plays haunted protagonist. While adult David narrates the story, he revisits the swing set in his home town of Girvan, Scotland where the innocence-shattering events took place. Memories spring noisily to life as David’s childhood friends come barreling into view, vibrating with the unselfconsciously quirky hardihood of preadolescence. David’s cousin, Barry (Kennedy Kanagawa), who spends the summers in Girvan, obsessively times his bike rides so he can maximize his playground time and still make it home by dinnertime. O’Neil (Graham Baker) moves about the yard with a bad boy swagger that awes the other kids. Chrissy (David Gow) and Decky (Misha Osherovich) are the best of friends who express their affection by constantly fighting. David finds the whole thing a bit odd, but hey, that’s life at the swings. One of the gang’s favorite activities is a knuckleheaded stunt called “broncoing” that involves jumping off the fast-moving swing at just the right time, so that the chains will coil around the top beam and make a cool noise. Runty Decky can’t seem to master the art of the bronco, which makes him the object of some razzing (or, in their parlance “taking the mickey”) by the other boys. One afternoon, the teasing goes too far and Decky storms off, threatening to join the army and never return. What happens next sends shocks throughout the community and abruptly brings the boys’ childhood to an end. Everything that matters happens on the playground, including things that David, all these years later, can barely process.
The show’s deceptively simple (and remarkably durable) set provides a solid framework the action and adds the clank of its chains to the rhythms of the boy’s rowdy rituals. Making ample use of the space director Ethan Nienaber captures all the raw, startling contradictions of childhood, sometimes breaking into lyrical dance sequences accompanied by popular music of the early 80’s. In lesser hands, the conceit of adults playing children would feel artificial or cutesy, but Robinson and company bring a keenly-observed authenticity to their roles, never forcing a response from the audience. These boys are three dimensional beings. Like all of us, they are as fragile as they are resilient: practical schemers one moment, magical thinkers the next. Maxwell’s dialogue uncannily captures the cadences, the mad protocols playground life as well as the poignant simplicity of kid-logic (When, for example, David hears there was a lady at Decky’s house crying, he wonders if perhaps she’d been watching The Waltons). All too soon, though, the boys will reach a point where the old explanations no longer suffice. The experience of watching the sense of safety ebb from their faces will be difficult to forget.
DECKY DOES A BRONCO ran from September 6 through 21, 2019 at the The Royal Family Performing Arts Space is located at 145 West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. For more information visit https://www.deckydoesabronco.com.