The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Indian Wants the Bronx is a one-act play that opens with a bewildered East Indian, who speaks no English, attempting to negotiate the complexities of an American urban setting. As he attempts to decode the unfamiliar landscape and find his way to his son’s Bronx apartment, two young street toughs, who epitomize self-absorbed ignorance, arrive on the scene and begin to taunt him. They enter singing a song that depicts the world as a lonely and indifferent place. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that they come from unstable families and have a social worker who is attempting to rehabilitate them. Israel Horovitz makes it clear, however, that the institutions that are supposed to be assisting them have failed to reach them and that they are, accordingly, loose cannons with no real direction in life. They seem to wander the streets because they lack better alternatives.

From their first appearance onstage, Murph and Joey engage in juvenile banter that makes them appear even younger than they are. Despite their ostensible friendship, they communicate on a relatively elementary level and punctuate their conversations with crude sexual innuendo and street slang. Their reactions to Gupta highlight their stereotypic thought patterns and their provincial perspectives. Both their words and their actions leave the audience with the impression that the boys are bored and frustrated and are randomly venting their rage, which is fueled by their...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

To bring his message home, Horovitz blends humor with violence. In the first part of the play he uses countless plays on words and oblique metaphors. The language is jocular and the atmosphere is nonthreatening. Midway through the play, however, Horovitz warns the audience that the tone is about to shift. Suddenly the action assumes a new significance and the audience becomes uncomfortable with the level of violence. This is Horovitz’s intent. He is attempting to jolt the audience out of its lassitude. More important, he transforms humor into a vehicle for social criticism by forcing the audience to participate vicariously in the violence and disallows them any alternatives, much as he disallows Gupta alternatives.

The Indian Wants the Bronx blends techniques from the Theater of the Absurd with the Theatre of Cruelty to achieve its effect. Because of the language barrier, much of the dialogue and action borders on the surreal. By having Gupta speak virtually all of his lines in Hindi, Horovitz puts the audience at the same disadvantage with regard to understanding Gupta as Murph and Joey. This device reinforces the theme of the outsider that Horovitz introduces in the epigraph to the play.

However, Horovitz is not content to allow the play to focus on social displacement. Instead, he introduces a more sinister element that transforms the play into a vehicle for indicting the ways in which language skills (or the lack of them) can...

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(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

DiGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Horovitz, Israel. Sixteen Short Plays. Lyme, N.H.: Smith and Kraus, 1994.

Kane, Leslie, ed. Israel Horovitz: A Collection of Critical Essays. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Lahr, John, ed. Showcase 1: Plays from the Eugene O’Neill Foundation. New York: Grove Press, 1970.

Marowitz, Charles. Off-Broadway Plays. Vol. 1. New York: Penguin Press, 1970.

Wetzsteon, Ross, ed. The Obie Winners: The Best of Off-Broadway. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.