Racial violence in America is a hot topic at the moment so Man Down, a brand new play from Hannah Trujillo, is perfectly timed. It was created in response to the brutal arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, a young black man, during the Baltimore Uprising of 2015. Developed through a series of workshop sessions and improvisions with actors, the resulting play is an exploration of the sometimes uneasy relationship between the Latinx and the Black communities in the US. At the same time, it’s a love story, exploring the romance between young journalist Eva Ramirez and youth worker Michael Sterling. The parallels are nicely drawn, demonstrating the challenges involved with getting along with someone from a very different background.
This is a stylish play. Set simply but elegantly by Rashi Jain, neat lighting by Katelyn Flores and a soundtrack created by the talented company help to build up a picture of a relationship riven by tensions. Michael feels that he’s competing with Eva’s phone for attention. And Eva is convinced that Michael has something to hide. When Eva’s estranged brother, Eddie, re-appears in her life, underlying tensions are brought to the surface by Eddie’s crass behaviour and clumsy attempts to over-compensate for being the little brother.
Camila Ascencio is warm and engaging as Eva with enough of a streak of petulance for us to believe that she isn’t wholly convinced by Michael’s altruism. Samuel Garnett, as her brother, is nicely hard to read – closet racist or simply on his sister’s side, the audience is kept guessing. Terrence Wayne II is brilliantly versatile, equally at home playing the eloquent and passionate Michael or his childhood best friend, Freddie.
Ultimately, the script would benefit from digging a bit deeper into some of the issues surrounding police violence in response to racial tensions. Race, gender and politics can be the source of a myriad of divisions and whilst Trujillo touches on some of them, it’s a tantalising glimpse of the complexity of relationships between different ethnic groups that can struggle to get along. But first and foremost, this is a love story about two young people and that is a tale that this company tell with sincerity and care.