Review: The Boys of Summer Have Gone in the Poignant "Decky Does a Bronco"

Decky Does a Bronco

Written by Douglas Maxwell

Directed by Ethan Nienaber

Presented by Starting Five Productions

at The Royal Family Performing Arts Space

145 West 46th St., Manhattan, NYC

September 6-21, 2019

L to R: Graham Baker, Kennedy Kanagawa, Cody Robinson, David Gow, Misha Osherovich. Photo courtesy Spin Cycle PR. 
Decky Does a Bronco plays out on a beautifully designed and lighted minimalist set dominated by an old-school metal swing set standing on a patch of grass and surrounded by chalk art on the walls depicting its environs. This multi-award-winning play from Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell is making its U.S. debut The Royal Family Performing Arts Space, and the swing set, perched on a small hill in a council estate in Scotland, acts as the center of the world for the five young boys whom the play follows over one pivotal summer. Magnificently acted, Decky Does a Bronco both feelingly captures the insular intensity typical of groups of children bonded by roving unsupervised through long summer days and poignantly reflects on its end.

Our narrator for Maxwell's meditation on friendship and grief is David (Cody Robinson), who tells us that he is attempting to recount his experience of this particular summer without forcing into an adult frame or retroactively applying some kind of order through the comfort of cause and effect. An inveterate reminiscer, as he says, David takes us back to 1983, a summer, in his description, dominated for the boys by Star Wars, football, and broncoing. To bronco involves leaping off of a swing from a standing position while kicking the swing backwards with one foot such that it wraps around the swing set's crossbar. The particular year is less important than that it falls into that period of childhood in which rules for races and games, such as broncoing, are invented and adhered to with utmost seriousness. The group of 9 year-olds whom we see concoct and run just such a race in a great sequence set to Oingo Boingo's "On the Outside" consists, aside from David, of O'Neil (Graham Baker), who is the most worldly and athletic of the bunch and who seems to avoid going home as much as possible; Barry (Kennedy Kanagawa), who is a few years older than the others and determined to shave time off of the bicycle trip between his grandmother's house, where he stays for the summer holiday, and the park; Chrissy (David Gow), who shows his closeness to Decky through their constant fighting; and Decky (Misha Osherovich) himself, the physically slightest of this band of boys and the only one not yet to have done a bronco (or even to have mastered jumping off the swings). Decky, who wants to join the army one day, also tentatively poses a philosophical view of nettles that encapsulates one of the ways that the play understands trauma. It is on the day, ironically, that Barry finally and exultantly breaks his own biking record that a traumatic event abruptly and permanently changes the boys' lives.

Decky's opening juxtaposition of the melancholy song performed acapella by the actors with the joyful play of children that they mime during it nicely sums up the tonal balance that the show strikes. The play keeps parents and other adults (except David-as-narrator) offstage, compellingly aligning the audience with the children's perspective. At times, the stage is filled with motion; at others, the children's movement slows or freezes, often in concert with lighting changes, to emphasize temporal and emotional shifts. The play treats its characters very much as children, sometimes humorously so, but also with respect, as real people rather than, say, symbols of innocence. It is clear, for example, in the marvelous performances by Baker, Gow, and Osherovich, that the bravado common to groups of young boys functions as a shield for the complexities and vulnerabilities of their lives and selves. Kanagawa and Robinson are equally terrific, with the latter adding a soulful dimension to the adult David that goes a long way towards creating the play's emotional impact.

Decky Does a Bronco offers a straightforward but powerful story that touches on the bonds of youth, the strange processes of grief, and the way that we blot out parts of the world in order to go on, much as life for a gang of boys can be lived so thoroughly within a few blocks that a visit to a different park becomes an incursion into a foreign territory. Exuberant, pensive, and acutely moving, Decky Does a Bronco sends the swing high over the bar and lands triumphantly on its feet.

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