Wednesday, November 28, 2012

GOLDEN BOY on Broadway

The American Dream hangs in the balance in Clifford Odets' GOLDEN BOY directed by Bartlett Sher and produced by Lincoln Center Theater. If The Great Gatsby and Rocky met up in New York during the Depression, that is this story of Joe Bonaparte, affectionally referred to as Napoleon. He is torn between prizefighting and music, with family members and managers pushing and pulling him back and forth. Seth Numrich is a standout in the role of Joe. He has the sensitivity and nuance of a violin player, but all the rage and aggression of bull. For a smaller guy, his physicality in the fight scenes is very natural-it's all heart.

This 3-act epic isn't flashy. There aren't many bells and whistles. Show up ready to focus and concentrate, or you will be lost. Act I, which is much too long, introduces the characters, but it's all surface. We don't really get to know any of our characters until Act II, which opens in a boxing gym. When the curtain opens on those sparring fighters, that's when you know what this play is really about. It's not about the businessmen or the managers, it's about the soul of a fighter. Act III depicts Joe's rise to fame and his demise. It again forces us to question the American Dream. Sure, Joe has become famous, successful, and rich, but at what cost?

Tony Shalhoub is a brilliant foil to Joe in the role of his father. Every time Joe pulls closer to fighting, his father tries to pull him back toward music. A simple, happy life is all this immigrant wants for his son. He grows more fragile and downtrodden throughout the play as pride and greed rear their ugly heads within Joe. One of the most poignant scenes in the show unfolds as Mr. Bonaparte asks a seasoned fighter about his hands. He sees that they are permanently clenched and crippled and, without saying anything, understands that if his son fights his hands will no longer be able to bring music to the family. The single most heartbreaking image in the show is Joe removing his gloves after his final fight, only to realize that he cannot straighten his fingers.

Catherine Zuber's costumes are very appropriate for the Depression era and the muted shades suit the solemn, melancholy tone of the piece. Michael Yeargan's sets certainly fit the time and the themes, but a more minimalist design would have sufficed. We didn't need an overhead traffic light to understand that Joe was on the streets of New York and we didn't need lockers and showers to realize that we were in a locker room. The bulky set pieces created too much lag time in between scenes and the lengthy transitions ruin the mood.

GOLDEN BOY is A Chorus Line for fighters. It sheds light on a world that many are unfamiliar with and strips it down to bare bones. When you take away the lights and the audience, what are you really left with? This thing that was supposed to bring Joe fame and fortunate ripped him apart in the end. After proving himself time and time again, our Golden Boy is left with nothing but blood on his hands.

Catch this glimpse of prizefighting's past at the Belasco Theater through January 20th. For a chance to win a fantastic ticket package including dinner for two at Saju Bistro, enter our Pinterest contest here

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