Unflinching in its bleak portrayal of human depravity, Samuel Brett Williams’ Derby Day features gut-wrenching prose, black comedy, and animalistic acting as it examines the destructiveness of one family. Williams dissects addiction and dysfunction and their emotional toll on the psyche.
The three distant Ballard brothers, Frank (Robert M. Foster), Ned (Malcolm Madera), and Johnny (Jake Silbermann) reunite for their dad’s funeral and decide to let off steam by attending Derby Day at Oaklawn Race Track. Impossible dreams give way to disaster as they drink, curse, and fight their way through dark family secrets.
Director/writer Williams keeps his actors constantly on the move, circling boxers waiting for the perfect moment to unleash a flurry of punches. Lines and zingers fly through the visceral, intense production. Fight director Edgar Landa builds realistic, violent attacks with rhythms all their own.
The cast takes huge risks, which pay off. As Frank, Foster’s droll, laidback charm gives way to roiling passion. Madera’s Ned employs a cocky, sarcastic veneer to hide his teeming desperation. Silbermann brings a little boy lost quality to the hyper, insecure Johnny. Kimberly Alexander gives warm dignity and class to suffering waitress Becky.
Production work is first-rate, from Joel Daavid’s lush set, Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s superb track ambiance, to Matthew Richter’s rich lighting.
The production’s profanity and violence make it unsuitable for young audiences, however.
Camisade Theatre Company’s explosive production of Williams’ Derby Day delves into the disturbing underbelly of family secrets that keeps three men trapped in destructive behaviors.
Camisade Theatre Company presents Derby Day Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 22 at the Elephant Theatre located at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Tickets cost $20. Visit plays411.com or elephanttheatre.org to purchase tickets.