Back of the Yards

Saturday I went to the Newberry Library, which graciously presented a free reading of the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman’s one-act play, Back of the Yards. 

Set in the 19th century, the didactic Back of the Yards’ dramatizes the question of “What should we do to help poor kids who’re getting into trouble with the law?” It’s a moralistic story which reminded me of Medieval morality plays. The acting was compelling even though it was a reading so they had the script in their hands.

Plot: A priest and policeman meet on the street and discuss what to do with troubled youth. The priest, who believes in training and offering services to the youth,  challenges the officer because the cops go easy on kids guilty of petty crimes. The kids then ignore any warnings and increase their offenses. A neighborhood woman then joins their conversation.

The play then goes to illustrate this argument when a neighborhood hoodlum is shot and dies in the hospital. After the woman goes off to console the vicim’s mother. The priest and cop continue their discussion when the woman’s son arrives with a bloody arm. Soon we learn that he was part of this incident and he plans to leave town to avoid arrest.

My Take: The play hasn’t lost its relevance — and sadly may never. The script was rather heavy-handed and plodding, but the acting rescued the story. While they performed the reading with the scripts in hand, they put a lot of emotion and professionalism into their work, thus keeping the audience interested.

Prior to the play, there were three speakers, long-winded all, who provided background. I’d say they all praised the playwright too much. If this was an example of his work, he’s not on par with the greats of his era.

Still who can criticize a free play with professional actors? Certainly, not me. I’m glad I went.

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