Derby Day @ The Clurman Theatre in Theatre Row, Through December 17

(L-R): Jake Silbermann as Johnny Ballard (kneeling), Jared Culverhouse as Frank Ballard and Malcolm Madera as Ned Ballard

Would you place a wager to keep your family together? Sadly, with its eager attempt, Derby Day, by Samuel Brett Williams, failed to convince me to take such a risk. Three brothers gather in a luxury box at the Oaklawn Racetracks to celebrate the death of their abusive father. Although the three men were put together to enjoy themselves, and reminisce about their memories of derby day, Samuel Brett Williams decided to take the story in a dark, predictable, and sometimes ridiculous direction. He puts the fractured characters in a room to often, literally, slug it out. There was little build up that led to the physical violence on stage, which made certain scenes outlandish. The descent into dysfunction happens so quickly that it feels as if the production was trying to get it out all at once instead of letting the audience spend time with the characters. Some scenes were possibly meant to be moving but came off as risible instead.

Jared Culverhouse plays the eldest, quick tempered brother Frank, a recovering alcoholic. Though his performance exhibits anger and passion, he didn’t make me believe his inner conflict. Disconnect of emotions made it hard to be able to sympathize with the character. Malcolm Medera plays Ned, the recently married, degrading, alcoholic, troublemaker. He was the most convincing out of the three men as he took the time to get into his character. My problem is the clichéd usage of alcohol. All three characters used alcohol as a catalyst to either create the problems or resolve them. It was as if the playwright used alcoholism as an easy way out instead of taking the time to explore other character flaws. Jake Silberman portrayed the youngest brother Johnny with sensitivity. He appears to be innocent but you later learn he isn’t. Beth Wittick as Betty the waitress was the only sane and realistic interruption during the play. She is the one touch of normality in this whirlwind of the play. I wasn’t convinced with the events that set off all the characters. I felt disconnected from the production as a whole. The outlandish behaviors in the play took away the essence from certain scenes. All three men seemed to have possessed similar, inner conflicts, and the resolution felt abrupt.

I was constantly trying to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning as events in their past were revealed, but only scratched the surface. The purpose of the play gets lost in the chaos of the family’s turmoil. The play ran its race and left me without an adrenaline rush.

Derby Day runs at The Clurman Theatre in Theatre Row through December 17. For tickets and more information, visit

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