By Laurence Fishburne
|Mike Cherry, Eric Sherman-Christ, Eduardo Martinez|
Riff Raff tells the story of Michael (20/20) Leon and Michael (Torch) Murphy, two New York half-brothers who attempt to steal four kilos of heroine. Instead, they end up with three kilos and a trail of murder and violence as they end up hiding in an abandoned New York apartment. Enter Tony (The Tiger), an old drug dealing partner of 20/20. The minimalist plot unfolds for 110 violence-filled minutes. In fact, there isn’t a great deal of plot to unfold. 20/20 and Torch attempt to steal four kilos of heroin from the most powerful drug lord in New York City. In the process they kill the drug lord’s nephew. They take flight and end up in an abandoned apartment. 20/20 calls his old friend Tony The Tiger to ask Tony to help them escape the wrath of the drug lord.
The Real Story
As the characters interact with one another we learn a great deal about their individual weaknesses and strengths. Torch hates to be called “Bro.” by 20/20. He also hates to be called “Stupid.” He’s an incredibly violent man and prone to solve all of his problems by simply killing those he doesn’t like or who he perceives as a threat. 20/20 on the other hand perceives himself as very street-wise and smart when he actually has terribly misjudged just about everyone in the play along with a number of other characters who never appear but who play significant roles in the play’s ultimate resolution. 20/20 is also terrified of rats. Tony the Tiger may in fact be the one with the most street-smarts. He has a wife and daughter who matter to him although he elects to support them by dealing in drugs.
|Mike cherry, Eduardo Martinez|
Each of the characters has a long monologue that tells us how he arrived at his present station in life. None of the characters is the least bit likeable and early on there are probably none in the audience who have anything but contempt for the lot of these amoral, murderous and anti-social misfits. But the fact that they are misfits and how they came to be that way is what makes this play an important exploration. Circumstance impacts human development in many ways and while it may be comforting for the existentialists to point out how individual choice is what determines outcomes, that choice is often denied the very young or the very vulnerable. Should we be at all sympathetic toward these characters or should we grateful that most of them are no longer able to hurt other members of society?
There is no easy answer to that question, of course. But what may be of greater significance is our ability to perceive how grave mistakes like 20/20, Torch and Tiger are created and how we as a society might mitigate future occurrences.
At the play’s conclusion, I breathed a sigh of relief that I no longer had to be in such close proximity with these incredibly miserable and disgusting human beings.
Mary Arrchie is the perfect venue for a play set in an abandoned New York City apartment. The seating feels like an extension of the set. Floors haven’t been swept for perhaps ten years. You are “in the mood” before the piece even starts. When 20/20 hears the scratching of rats, I was certain I felt something run over my foot! With only three members in the cast, a one-act production nearly two hours in length, and a dramatic intensity that exhausts even the audience, there is little room for any performance less than about 110% of the actor’s ability. Unfortunately, Eduardo Martinez (20/20) wasn’t always up to the task. On a couple of occasions he had to grope a bit for a line or a word; the book just wasn’t completely solid in his head. Martinez did have a firm grasp on the important monologue by 20/20 detailing his sordid criminal history. Mike Cherry (Torch) turned in a consistently solid performance that convincingly portrayed both his physical (his hand had been injured among other things) as well as his emotional sufferings. Likewise, his monologue provided the needed back-story of his journey from earliest youth to a life of violent crime. Eric Sherman Christ (Tony the Tiger) also turned in a convincing portrayal of a crafty, street-smart and ruthless criminal who was never-the-less able to “sell” a number of ideas to both 20/20 and Torch that ultimately resulted in great benefit to Tony but that were the final undoing of both 20/20 and Torch. Tony’s long rap about his life as a pimp with a “ho” seemed somehow out of place in a piece that was primarily concerned with violent drug dealing but did serve to cement the idea that Tony was a crafty and ruthless adversary.
Riff Raff runs through October 30 at Mary Arrchie. By the way, the playwright’s setting states that the time is the Present All Hallows Eve, making this a perfect choice for your Halloween outing! Don’t expect any answers, but instead expect a better understanding of the problem.