Monday, January 11, 2016

Golden Boy—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

The American Dream

This classic Clifford Odets drama is directed by Vladimir Ilnitzky.  It is playing at their space at 368. S. State St. through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

Who doesn’t dream…and have dreams of becoming rich, famous, loved…whatever your heart desires.  But Reality has a way of raising its ugly head at some point and declaring that you also must make a living.  And the dreams, well, they have a way of dissipating, of dissolving into thin air, some never to be realized again.  Sad, sad, sad.

In the early 1900’s, immigrants had this dream when coming to America to make their fortune, where the streets were purportedly, “paved with gold.”  In many cases, they still do support this dream, I believe.  In the persona of Joe Bonaparte, from an Italian immigrant family, the dream is to play the violin in a concert hall.  The reality is becoming a prize fighter in the boxing ring.  When these are in conflict, reach for the…well, that is what the story is all about.  What to do…what to do…?!

Odets was of Jewish immigrant parents so he knows first-hand from whence he speaks.  He was also part of the famous, and infamous, Group Theatre of Strasberg, Kazan, and Adler and Clurman and Crawford, from whence the American Method of acting was born which, among other things, stressed naturalism in style and tackled social issues of the day.  Brando and Clift and Dean were of this school of art.  The impact of this philosophy changed theatre history.

Golden Boy was also made also made into a film with William Holden in the 40’s and a musical with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the 60’s.    Rod Serling was an admirer of Odets and his award-winning TV drama (and movie), Requiem for a Heavyweight, might have been reflecting Odets’ characters in the future.

This production features Ty Boice (co-founder of Post 5 Theatre) as the petulant, Joe.  His dreams as a boy (Carter Christianson) are to be a violinist but his family is not wealthy.  His loving father (Gary Powell) supports his dreams but has no money to give him the education he needs for it.  His older brother, Siggie (Stan Brown), a bit of a drunk, is a cabdriver.  And so it is up to Joe to pull him, and them, out of the dumps.

He stumbles into boxing by accident, as he is a last minute replacement for an injured boxer who happens to be working out at the same gym Joe works out at.  His eventual trainer, the good-hearted, Tokio (Jeff Gorham), has faith in him and touts him to his manager, the oily, Tom Moody (Jason Maniccia), who takes him on.

But Joe seems to lack the “killer instinct,” so Moody sends his main squeeze, the beautiful femme fatale, Lorna (Tabitha Trosen), to convince the seemingly, easily manipulated, Joe, to bend to Moody’s desires.  But the road to fame is a rocky one and when Joe starts battling his way to the top, the mob, in the guise of the hard-nosed, Eddie (Garland Lyons), wants a piece of the action, too.  To tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will stop at that.

The set (Max Ward, designer) is stark and simple with a rather stunning backdrop of the Urban Jungle.  And the frequent set changes are quickly and smoothly done.  The director, Ilnitzky, because of his background, certainly understands the trials and tribulations of being a “stranger in a stranger land,” and this understanding is shown to good advantage in the carefully crafted performances.  Boice is particularly powerful in portraying this image of a person caught up in a web not of his understanding, coming from two opposing backgrounds and having opposing dreams which, not unrealistically, must come to a head.  Boice underplays him beautifully.

Powell, as his father, has been playing significant roles in this area for a number of years (recently seen as the lead in Present Laughter at Lakewood).  He plays the part as a man of understanding, supporting his son no matter what, and your heart goes out to him.  It is a well-balance performance.  Trosen has always impressed me in productions she has done and has the unenviable job of playing a woman with an abusive background just trying to survive, no matter what the cost.  But she also has a heart and simply, like Joe, doesn’t know how to combine both desires, and so you care about here.  Well played.

Maniccia is appropriately despicable as the weak and demanding manager.  Brown is convincingly loud and boisterous as the older sibling, perhaps trying to live his dreams through Joe.  Gorham as the faithful friend and trainer is appealing as he gently tries to steer Joe in the right direction.  And Lyons as the creep, Eddie, strong arm of the mob, is chilling.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.