NEW YORK—One of the most stunning productions to hit the boards in many a season is the Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy.” It is at the Belasco Theatre, where it had originally played 75 years ago.
Directed by the brilliant Bartlett Sher, the play, set in 1936 New York, follows the life and career of young Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich). He struggles between pursuing a career of a classical violinist, for which he has shown a great gift, and that of a boxer, for which he also indicates talent and would undoubtedly reap a fortune for him.
Rejecting his father’s (Tony Shalhoub) pleas to continue his violin studies, Joe begins his climb toward boxing success, where he must deal with some seedy characters. Actually, his manager, Tom Moody (an excellent Danny Mastrogiorgio), is one of the nicer of those whose paths Joe must cross.
The slimy investor Eddie Fuseli (an appropriately ostentatious Anthony Crivello) wants to “buy a piece” of the up-and-coming young fighter. Others want to use Joe solely for his ability to make money for them.
Joe’s warmest relationship is with his trainer, Tokio (a rich, complex performance by Danny Burstein). The scene in which Tokio is revving Joe up for a forthcoming bout is one of the most exciting in the show.
Joe almost explodes as he bounces with a fierce energy, while Tokio, standing in semidarkness a few feet away from Joe, urges him on with an almost fiendish intensity. The pair look like two dancers performing a beautifully choreographed pas de deux.
In fact, one of the appeals of the production is the sense of rhythm that permeates it, rhythm in speech (for that, Odets’s language is mostly responsible, but the cast “gets” it), and rhythm in movement, with the blocking being smooth and economical.
The scenes in the boxing gym bristle with intensity; one can almost smell the sweat emanating from the boxers’ bodies as they practice their moves.
Set designer Michael Yeargan and lighting designer Donald Holder coordinate their talents to lend these scenes a smoky, dense sense of reality. They bring to mind the paintings of George Bellows, who specialized in steamy boxing scenes. (Fortuitously, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently showing an exhibition of Bellows’s works.)
On the other hand, the domestic scenes feel down to earth, providing Joe a much safer environment.
A powerful fly in the ointment of Joe’s upward path is Lorna Moon (the eye-catching Yvonne Strahovski in her Broadway debut, wearing Catherine Zuber’s fabulous period costumes), who is manager Moody’s girlfriend and intended bride. Joe and Lorna fall hard for each other, leading to unfortunate complications.
An expensive car, which Joe has been able to purchase with his winnings, serves as a symbol of his success, as well as serving as the vehicle for his ultimate destruction.
Seth Numrich shows fine character development, from the early scenes where he is as yet an unformed lad, to an arrogant egotist, much too sure of himself. His final entrance in the play is heartbreaking.
A writer who wrote from the heart, particularly in his early days, Odets’s own life permeates “Golden Boy.” A bit of Odets went into the work: He went from creating theater works, primarily for the famed Group Theater, to financially rewarding but soulless sojourns in the Hollywood film industry.
Others in the cast include Michael Aronov, Jonathan Hadary, Dagmara Dominczyk, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Ned Eisenberg, Brad Fleischer, Daniel Jenkins, David Wohl, Karl Glusman, Dion Mucciacito, Demosthenes Chrysan, Sean Cullen, and Vayu O’Donnell.
111 West 44th Street
Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com or www.lct.org
Closes: Jan. 20, 2013
Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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