Critics applauded The Indian Wants the Bronx for a variety of reasons. Some compared Horovitz’s play to the work of fellow absurdists Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett because it negates rational assumptions about human interaction and emphasizes the inherent alienation of modern life. Others saw the play as conforming to Antonin Artaud’s concept of Theater of Cruelty, which inverts the traditional importance of words and action, elevating gesture and sound so as to shock the audience. Given the inspiration for the play, both of these assessments have merit. The idea for the play, according to Horovitz, traces back to an incident he observed while studying at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the early 1960’s.
One morning while Horovitz was waiting in line for breakfast at the Commonwealth Institute, he noticed a young Hindu dressed in Indian garb, also waiting in line. The Indian’s attire set him apart from the others, and when a car full of “teddy boys” drove by, they unleashed a virulent stream of epithets toward the Hindu. To the amazement of the others, the Hindu, who spoke no English, simply laughed and seemed to encourage his attackers. After the incident ended, Horovitz approached the victim and realized that the Hindu was a lonely newcomer who was pleased by any overtures, however cruel or absurd.
This theme of social dislocation intrigued Horovitz and led him to write The Indian Wants the Bronx, which earned him his first Obie Award in 1968. He was struck by both the comedy and tragedy of the scene and used these competing elements to fuel many of his subsequent works, including The Primary English Class (pr. 1975, pb. 1976) and Morning (pr. 1968, pb. 1969). While these plays used different dramatic contexts, they continued to explore the social dislocation and random social violence of contemporary society. For this reason, many have applauded Horovitz as a master student of “the psychology of terrorism,” a theme that seems even more relevant in the early twenty-first century than when he wrote these works.