Directed by Dexter Bullard
At Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago
Authentic depiction of boxing as a storytelling vehicle punches up an engaging play
Set in 1981-88 in Thatcher England, Sucker Punch depicts the relationship of a young black native Brit boxer, Leon (Maurice Demus) and his mentor, Charlie (John Judd), an aging white boxing trainer. The boxer strives for fame and fortune and the trainer still wishes for yet another champion to justify his long career and allow him financial security and peer recognition. Sucker Punch is really Charlie’s play as we see that Leon is his last hope to save his London gym and financial future. Playwright Roy Williams is a black Brit who brings his first hand experience to this work.
Sucker Punch is also about race relations in Britain during the tremulous Thatcher years. We see Charlie’s racist reaction when his protege Leon starts dating his daughter Becky (Taylor Blim). We also see how Leon’s best friend, Troy (Denzel Love), also, a native born black man, were tight “mates” until Leon ran from Trey during The Brixton Riots, which pitted the Bobbies against the English black community. Leon chose his future in boxing over the risk of physical harm by helping Tr0y. Kenn E. Head plays Squid, Leon’s father – a street-smart gambler who leeches of his son.
Sucker Punch is mainly a mentor-protege drama framed with terrifically realistic boxing action ( coached by Ruben Gonzalez). We see Charlie and Leon bonding into a “father-son” relationship as each truly cares about each other (with the exception of Charlie never tolerating the Leon-Becky relationship)
Several dynamics are at play here. Leon loves Becky but he makes an interesting choice when his boxing career is threatened. Troy’s bitterness sends him to America to box. Charlie’s mentoring of Leon, despite having fame and fortune in sight, could be stopped if he learns of Becky’s involvement with Leon. Trust, loyalty, racism, and the quest for recognition and success fuel this most engaging drama. The boxing scenes are terrific, the accents understandable, and the acting is first class, especially by John Judd and Maurice Demus. At 1 hour, 45 minutes without an intermission, Sucker Punch moves along nicely. My only minor problem is that the time sequences were not specific enough as the boxing gym set (terrific design by Tom Burch) became other boxing venues, even the LA Olympics.
Sucker Punch is more that simply a sports or a boxing play, it is a unique look into the racism suffered by native born blacks in England as well as how even committed mentors put their bigotry above their proteges. The staging and the wise casting makes Sucker Punch a most worthy experience.
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $15 – $60, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission, through October 18, 2015