Written by Jordan G. Teicher for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC
Photos: Carrie Crow
4 out of 5 stars
NEW YORK, NY (May 20, 2013) Tales of gentrification tend to be moralistic, and they’re often not too kind to the gentrifier. That’s why Broken Fences, a carefully weighted, human look at this urban phenomenon, is so refreshing. In Steven Simoncic‘s first-rate new play directed by Alex Levy, gentrification is not simply a matter of politics or race, but rather a lens through which to dissect notions of friendship, generosity and community. It’s funny too, and avoids many of the potential cliches that threaten this hot-button subject matter.
When expecting parents April (Krissy Shields) and Czar (Brian J. Carter) move into a new home in a predominantly black neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side, they’re instantly met with what seems like a sign of unpleasantness to come: a stranger sifting through their stuff on the street.
And, then, in the next instant, kindness. Their neighbors, D (Erika Rose) and Hoody (Clinton Lowe) welcome the couple through a neighborhood tradition, by presenting them with a swatch of fabric.
Though it’s not the last touching moment as these neighbors get to know each other, the play is by no means rose-colored. As a result of the neighborhood’s changes, D and Hoody are in danger of losing their home. This stress leaves them torn between feeling resentment toward their new neighbors and their natural inclination to friendliness. Czar and April, meanwhile, try to be open-minded, but find themselves at odds over their future in this essentially foreign land.
Friends of both couples amplify the differences in their worlds. The hilariously square Spence (Scott Aiello) and Barb (Lori Funk) serve as reminders to April and Czar of where they should be living and, perhaps, who they should be. Marz (Emillio Aquino) and Esto (Benjamin Foronda), on the other hand, push D and Hoody away from reconciliation.
The play is most interesting not when tensions flair between these characters, but rather when they try, with mixed success, to overcome them. But questions loom: Who’s helping whom? Can they understand each other? Are they even friends?
These concerns are often handled with subtlety. Other times, the treatment can be over-the-top, like when Czar and Spence pitch the helplessly out of touch “gangsta” mascot they’ve made for an advertising campaign aimed at black kids. It’s a funny scene, but seems out of place in the play’s otherwise realistic universe. Intermittent monologues for each of the four leading characters, though useful for the exposition they provide, present the same issue.
But the performances keep Broken Fences down to earth. Clinton Lowe stands out as Hoody, bringing quiet strength to a complex character. And Erika Rose makes a graceful and powerful D.
Ballybeg Theater Company‘s production at Shelter Theatre 54 is modest but effective. Kathryn Kawecki‘s backdrop of jumbled but interlocking doll houses seems appropriate for this messy group brought close together.
By the end of the play, it’s not quite clear if that union was for better or for worse. But with a subject so often defined by winners and losers, it’s nice to have some ambiguity.