By Clifford Odets
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Odets called the play “‘symbolic, pitting spiritual ideals against lust for fame and money in what can only be termed an implausible setup.”
Golden Boy still packs a wallop after all the years
Kudos to director Jonathan Berry and the creatives at Griffin Theatre Company for mounting a fresh, well-paced production of Golden Boy. This is one of the finest ensemble works mounted on a Chicago stage this year!
Clifford Odets’ has so much gripping dialogue that I felt punch-drunk from hearing smart, almost lyrical, writing come to life. Odets had the voice of the common working-class New Yorkers, giving them the stage as platform to vent their passions.
Golden Boy, written in 1937 (later made into a film with William Holden), is Joe Bonaparte’s (Nate Santana) story. Set in Depression era New York, Joe, a talented violinist and son of an Italian American immigrant chooses to be a boxer in his relentless search for the American Dream. Filled with gritty underworld characters and real family members (and, of course, the local socialists), Odets has the knack for presenting exact models of 1930’s frustrated lower class. We see the low-key immigrant father, the drunken, wife beating brother-in-law, the socialist union organizer brother of Joe. This is a typical 1930’s New York family.
Odets paints a vivid portrayal of the underworld of boxing and its colorful characters. Meet Tom Moody ( terrific turn by Mark Pracht), the loser manager who always seems to lose control of his fighters and can’t get a divorce so he can marry his bimbo girlfriend, Lorna Moon (Nina O ‘Keefe). Meet Roxy Gottlieb (John Connolly); fight promoter and gangster Eddie Fuseli (David Prete), both wanting a piece of Joe Bonaparte while Tokio (Jason Lindner) , Joe’s trainer, is a loyal companion.
Odets introduces these archetypes so realistically that they become mainstays in many a 1950’s genre boxing films. We empathize with each and we quickly develop a love/hate relationship with each. We do care what happens to each.
The fifteen cast members director Berry has assembled each delivers all the richness and punch that Odets demands. Mark Pracht’s Tom Moody is intense, dominating, and yet venerable. His performance anchored the show. Nina O “Keefe, as the girlfriend, Lorna, has the look and sensuality as well as enough attitude to manipulate Tom and Joe.
Norm Woodel’s emotionally wrenching father and Morgan Maher’s nasty drunken wife-beating brother-in-law, Siggie were effective.. Both actors were terrific. We feel their pain and are hurt when their dreams are shattered. John Connelly’s funny Roxy was precious if he’d only tone down his shouting a tad. Add the eerie presence of David Prete as the gangster Eddie and we see a terrific ensemble at play.
As Golden Boy slugs it out on stage, it wins or loses with how audiences relate to Nate Santana’s performance as Joe Bonaparte. Santana’s the build of a lightweight boxer as he wins us with his emotionally tortured and conflicted boy in search of a dream. He gives a convincing portrayal of the lightweight fighter.
We believe that Santana is a cocky21-year old angry boy. His performance gives the show its spark. We empathize and like his Joe. We share his dream, we cheer for him. We are saddened by the ending but glad we spent almost three hours in Joe’s world.
Golden Boy is a powerful look into the dilemma of choosing which American dream to follow. Each generation gains insights from this classic social realism piece. The tough dialogue made stronger by the distinct lack of profanity impresses audiences. Odets teaches playwrights that four letter words are a lazy writers cop out. I could hear Odets’ words flow on stage for hours.
Golden Boy is a major hit for Griffin Theatre Company! Golden Boys is much more than a ‘boxing’ play; it is a drama of hopes and desperation.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 27, 2014
For more info checkout the Golden Boy page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www.theaterwit.org, tickets $33 – $28 students/seniors, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with 2 intermissions, through April 6, 2014