The World Premiere.
By Michael Cristofer.
Directed by Charles Newell.
At Court Theatre. Chicago.
“The basic story of the play is a man who is slipping into dementia trying to make sense of his life
— in this case, a life that was very dramatic in lots of ways.” – Michael Cristofer
Stunning world premiere about boxer Emile Griffin as he struggles with dementia late in his life.
Court Theatre always seems to come up with amazing plays that they nearly always find dazzling ways to stage such worthy works. That was in evidence at Court with the world premiere of Michael Cristofer’s Man in the Ring. This was a flawless production with an airy set (designed by John Culbert) featuring a large yellow lighted circle (lighting by Keith Parham). Andre Pluess’ sound design was eerie and provocative with interesting movement (by Tommy Rapley) and fine Caribbean Island accents by Adam Goldstein. These creative elements highlighted a story of boxer Emile Griffin (1938 – 2014), a six-time World Champion Welterweight and Middleweight boxer from 1949-62 winner of 85 matches.
Anchored by old Emile, (fabulous work from Allen Gilmore) who is going into and out from past memories as he battles dementia. He sees his young self (the boxer-built Kamal Angelo Bolden) as he arrives in NYC from St. Thomas to reunite with his estranged mother Emelda (Jacqueline Williams). As Emile and Emelda look for work in NYC, Emile’s ability to make lady’s hats leads him to Howie (Thomas J. Cox), a small hat manufacturer. Once Howie sees how well built Emile is he gets him to become a boxer.
Old Emile with hep from his caregiver Luis (Gabriel Ruiz), continues to have flashbacks to his boxing career. Here Director Charles Newell’s staging and the smart lighting and realistic boxing sounds contribute to stunning boxing scenes. We see how Emile is an aggressive boxer yet he has a sweet side as his homosexual traits are played out. He meets Luis who becomes his lifetime companion.
But when boxer Benny (Sheldon Brown) challenges Emile’s sexual identify, Griffin responds in the ring like a savage. He lives a memory that will haunt him after the legendary encounter. Man in the Ring tells of violence, love, the immigrant experience in America and life in the public eye. Through old Emile’s conflicted and often fractured version of his past as events, people and happenings come and go in his estranged memory frustrating him often.
This is a gripping and fascinating new work featuring a dedicated cast led by the heartfelt work by Allen Gilmore and the commanding and charismatic turn by Kamal Angelo Bolden as the passive-aggressive young Emile Griffin. Terrific supporting work came from Jacqueline Williams and Gabriel Ruiz.
This is a refreshingly engrossing drama that is part biography, part boxing play, and a look into the horrors of late life dementia. I can’t remember a tighter, more polished world premiere drama on a Chicago stage in many years!. Man in the Ring is one of the finest plays presented in Chicago in 2016! Don’t miss this gem.
Date Reviewed: September 24, 2016.
For more info checkout the Man in the Ring page at theatreinchicago.com.
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $45 – $65, Wed. & Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7;30 pm, running time is 105 minutes with intermission, through October 16, 2016.