Review: The Indian Wants The Bronx (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Israel Horovitz
Director: Rahel Romahn
Cast: Tristan Artin, Elliott Giarola, Rajesh Valluri
Images by Shayan

Theatre review
As delinquents Murph and Joey wander the streets of New York, they stumble upon Gupta at a bus stop trying to get to the Bronx without knowing the English language. The boys are amused by Gupta’s Indian clothing, and proceed to taunt him, gradually increasing in intensity over the play’s 45 minutes.

Israel Horovitz’s The Indian Wants The Bronx premiered in 1968, the year of Martin Luther King’s death, at the height of America’s civil rights movement. Although the work is undoubtedly dated, with a central Indian character unable to speak English, the way it frames bigotry as an unassailable reality regardless of intentions by individuals, remains valuable in our discourse about race. The young New Yorkers do not think of themselves as xenophobic, but consequences of their actions are certainly racist.

Directed by Rahel Romahn, the show is suitably energetic, fuelled by the irrepressible ebullience of unruly youth. A greater sense of danger, and dramatic tension, is slightly missing in early portions, but the show delivers the goods in its second half. Sound by Kailesh Reitmans provides excellent support in calibrating atmosphere for every scene, and lighting design by Thomas Walsh, although obvious with its objectives, is effective in escalating tensions.

Three accomplished performers take us through this story of racially motivated violence, with Rajesh Valluri leaving a strong impression as Gupta, able to convey a sense of dignity for the character in spite of his unfortunate circumstances. Tristan Artin and Elliott Giarola are strong in their roles, both actors detailed and passionate with what they bring to the stage. The production is an engaging one, made believable by a thoughtful and cohesive team.

One of the boys is Irish, and the other Jewish. Mid-century New York was not always kind to them, yet they are unable to see themselves reflected in their Indian victim. History shows that it is easy for people to forget their own persecution, and dispense upon others the injustices they had previously suffered. Half a century after Horovitz’s writing however, it may seem that the new generations of today, determined to define themselves as unprecedentedly enlightened, have become much more compassionate in how they regard society. The establishment is still in the habit of keeping groups of people subjugated, but opposition to their modus operandi is indisputably growing.