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Dead Dog Park

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Tom O’Keefe and Migs Govea
Photo by Ashley Garrett

A white cop with a history of anger issues chases a young black teenager into a deserted warehouse. The teen plunges four stories from a window. Did he fall? Was he pushed? And does it make any real difference in the ensuing fight for justice?

These are the very serious questions posed in the powerful production of Barry Malawer's drama Dead Dog Park at 59E59 Theaters, where the objective "truth" of what took place in the moments leading up to the incident is almost tangential to the outcome.

Minimally staged (a table, a few chairs, industrial lighting) but tautly performed by a polished cast, the play draws its impetus from the hyper-politicized climate in which clashes between white policemen and black civilians have come under intense public scrutiny. In Dead Dog Park, the facts we can be sure of are these: Tyler, the 13-year-old boy, survives the fall but says he does not recall what happened; a witness claims to have seen the cop push the teenager; the policeman is arrested and tried, and lives are permanently damaged.

The play offers no easy answer to the question of culpability. The policeman, Rob (Tom O'Keefe), vigorously denies he was doing anything other than trying to yank the boy back inside. His wife Angela (Susannah Millonzi), stressed to the breaking point, and Ricky (Migs Govea), his long-time partner on the force, have their own doubts that poison their relationships with him.

But perhaps the most compelling character is the young man's mother, Sharonne, a working single mom, exquisitely and honestly portrayed by Eboni Flowers with a mixture of anger, weary frustration, and gritty determination. She recognizes her own responsibility in all of this (why is her son running around on a school day, and why doesn't she know what he's been up to or who he's been hanging out with?). But, still, she hires an attorney (Ryan Quinn), well known for his media-savvy grandstanding, to ensure that the cop will lose his court battle and the city will be made to pay through the nose. The attorney warns her she will be put through the ringer in court ("You can't just cry out for justice; it has to be won"), but she stands resolute.

In alternating scenes, during which five of the six cast members remain on stage even when not performing, we watch the impact on all of the reluctant participants. Rob and his wife are unable to keep their marriage from disintegrating, and the tenuous friendship with his partner is left hanging by a thread.

Under Eric Tucker's fine-tuned direction, the short (70 minutes) play is divided into three sections. The most tense of these is the first part, everything leading up to Rob's trial. You really cannot predict what the outcome will be. The rest of the play deals with the fallout after the trial, and there is a coda in which, after many years have passed, Tyler (Jude Tibeau) reappears, now a grown man. Has justice, indeed, been served? You will have to decide for yourself..

Dead Dog Park
Through March 6
59E59 Theaters - Theater B, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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