Boys will be boys, until a shocking event thrusts them into the harsh realities of life and continues to traumatize them throughout adulthood. The US premiere of Decky Does a Bronco by Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell considers the lost innocence and lingering scars that forever change a group of nine-year-old friends in an important and impactful production by Starting Five Productions, now playing a limited engagement at The Royal Family Performing Arts Space.
Set in Girvan, Scotland, in the summer of 1983, the momentous tragi-comedy is presented in the format of a memory play, as the now-adult David looks back on the story they “don’t talk about,” when the five boys spent their time together in a neighborhood park, getting their thrills and establishing a social pecking order by doing dangerous broncos on an old and rusted swing set – standing on the seat, swinging high, and then jumping off so that the it goes over the top bar and the chains wrap around. But Decky, the smallest of the group, is the only one who can’t do it, and becomes the target of the childish teasing and taunting of the others. What ensues is a hard-learned lesson on the dangers that lurk in the outside world and the potentially harmful effects of bullying, even when intended as a joke among the best of buddies.
Directed and choreographed by Ethan Nienaber, the potent script and empathetic actors hit all the right notes in the range of emotions and psychological ramifications, as David reflects on his joyous memories of the kids playing, talking, laughing, running around, and rough-housing, through compelling direct-address narration and lively re-enactments by the terrific cast. From the full-out hyperactive energy of the young boys to the hints of foreboding that slowly creep into their story, they fully immerse us in the high-flying high-spirited fun of youth until it’s no longer funny, and their reckless boyhood days come to a sobering end. Nienaber smartly interjects stylized and slow-motion movement-based segments to create a distant dreamlike quality of the memories, signalled by Aidan Marshall’s dramatic shifts in lighting. It is all effectively bracketed by the adult versions of the characters harmonizing on an a cappella hymn that evokes the loss of childhood and the haunting seriousness of the life-changing incident.
Cody Robinson stars as David, in a thoroughly engaging and personal performance delivered in a heavy and convincing Scottish accent (dialect coaching by Jerzy Gwiazdowski), while moving around the stage, making direct eye contact with the audience, and bringing laughter and compassion to his character. His recollections include well-timed double-takes and amusing commentary on the childish behaviors, penetrating insight into the after effects of the devastating central occurrence, guilt over what he could have done but didn’t do, and the need to focus on positive and uplifting thoughts to survive.
Misha Osherovich is irresistible in the titular role of the “wee” and adorable Decky, an integral part of the group despite his smaller scale, proneness to injury, and inability to perform a bronco, who constantly fights with his neighbor and bestie Chrissy and dreams of leaving his small town to join the army, in order to prove himself and his worth. David Gow captures the fiery spirit and ultimate devastation of Chrissy in a heartrending shift from unabashed silliness to shutting down and lashing out about what happened. Graham Baker is aptly imposing as the strong and athletic O’Neil, the popular tough guy that everyone looks up to, who grieves quietly when he learns of the shattering news. And Kennedy Kanagawa contributes immeasurably to the hilarity and vitality of the show as David’s cousin Barry, riding his bike, screaming out about his record pace, and freaking out about his need to get home in time for dinner – juvenile concerns that pale in comparison to the critical climax.
The stellar portrayals are supported by Diggle’s simple scenic design of a timeworn swing set on a field of synthetic grass, Susanne Houstle’s everyday costumes that easily transition from the clothes worn by children to those of adults, and Cody Hom’s apropos sound effects, along with a background of ‘80s-style pop music.
Decky Does a Bronco is an award-worthy show that deserves all of the recognition and acclaim it is sure to generate with its American debut. It is a story that should be seen by everyone, from kids to their parents, teachers, and community, to engender awareness of the consequential issues it addresses with humor and heart.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.