“Golden Boy” (Griffin Theatre): Bittersweet

Thursday, May 8, 2014 Permalink

Griffin Theatre presents Revival of GOLDEN BOY.

Upon theatre arrival, the massive backdrop commands attention.  Set Designer Dan Stratton has created a mosaic of stained glass rectangles.  During the show, the colorful walls slide back and forth creating different locales.  Lighting Designer Rebecca Barrett silhouettes pivotal moments behind these screens.  Director Jonathan Berry orchestrates this boxing play with an elegant sadness.  The moments in shadows behind the wall are isolated.  This directly contrasts with the scene transitions. Most scenes have only a few, usually loud, participants.  To bridge to the next scene, Berry has the large ensemble march in to move furniture but mainly to establish a depression era tone.  It’s organized, somber monotony.

Playwright Clifford Odets debuted his play in 1937.  Odets’ story is about a young man who chooses being a boxer instead of a musician. He is tired of being poor and he wants more. His decision upsets his family.  His winning makes him a popular commodity on the fighting circuit. This new seedier world forces him to reassess what he is willing to lose to win

Berry paces it as a fast-talking drama.  The refined Nina O’Keefe (Lorna) and coarse Mark Pracht (Moody) are authentic in their relational banter.  They talk business or marriage with equal intense fervor.  Later, O’Keefe is heart-breaking in her soulful connection with the high-spirited Nate Santana (Joe).  Santana is spry in his drive to get what he wants.  It’s when he drops his guard that he’s most engaging.  We see the vulnerability behind the fighter in key moments.  At one point, the deft Santana is getting a massage from his trainer (played by the steadfast Jason Linder) and just quivers in emotional insecurity.  Santana is riveting with his all or nothing commitment.

The entire huge ensemble brings back the 1930s in a dynamic way. The conversations are snappy. The interactions motivated by personal gain. Odets dated dialogue could be offensive.  Women are bullied by their domestic partners. Berry teases out the humorous angle in the romantic entanglements making the threat less volatile.  Instead of a menace, Morgan Maher (Siggie) comes off as a sweet lug.

GOLDEN BOY revisits the pursuit of the American dream.  The trip is bittersweet. It’s kind of “Grapes of Wrath” meets “Rocky” with a stirring strings soundtrack.

Running Time:  Two hours and forty minutes includes two intermissions

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont

Written by Clifford Odets

Directed by Jonathan Berry

Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm

Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm

Sundays at 3pm

Thru April 6th

Buy Tickets at www.theaterwit.org

Production photo by Michael Brosilow

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