Derby Day

There’s a whole lot going on in Derby Day. Brothers Frank, Ned and Johnny meet in a private box immediately after burying their father. They’ve all been through their respective tragedies in their years apart, and the hour they spend on stage shows the audience a family reunion they won’t forget in a hurry.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, male-driven drama held together by its talented cast, then Derby Day won’t leave you disappointed.

It doesn’t take long to become a little ridiculous. Although the cast give mostly skilled and emotional performances, the play itself is outrageously melodramatic - reveal after reveal, fight after fight, it’s enough to give the audience emotional whiplash, and by calling in tragedy on tragedy manages to avoid giving any sort of interesting commentary on any single one.

That said, the cast do their best - Becky (Teresa Stephenson) the waitress is particularly compelling in what could easily be played as a nondescript bit part. She’s soft and powerful all at once; the maternal instinct that drives her character is spot on. Middle brother, Ned (Malcolm Madera) is also impressive, creating a genuinely nasty, crude character without becoming a simple villain.

It’s not easy to get as much action as Derby Day calls for into such a small space, but the fight scenes are executed elegantly. Some clever use of props in fights will have your heart in your throat, and the whole piece is staged with attention to detail; wherever you look, there’s something to see. It’s slick and high-energy in its visuals - it’s just unfortunate that Williams’ script doesn’t give the cast enough to maintain the emotional atmosphere through the relentless plot turns and revelations.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, male-driven drama held together by its talented cast, then Derby Day won’t leave you disappointed; the piece knows its audience and absolutely appeals to them. It’s up to you to work out whether that includes you, or not.

Reviews by Caitlin Hobbs

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

It's Derby Day, and the Ballard brothers have a luxury box at the Oaklawn Racetrack in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Their father has just died, and Frank, the oldest, has flown down from Chicago to see the angry newlywed Ned, and the ex-con Johnny. Over the course of one long day the Ballard boys destroy everything and everyone in their way – drinking, cursing, and revealing family secrets that might just tear them apart forever. Playwright Samuel Brett Williams explores family, love, and mortality in a dark comedy that culminates in a race that you will never forget.

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