REVIEW – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” at Shattered Globe

Requiem for a Heavyweight
“Why do so many have to feed off one guy’s misery?” This line in Shattered Globe’s heroic, heart-wrenching production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, sums up the life of the lead character, a boxer nick-named Mountain (Sean Sullivan). Written by Rod Serling (creator of “The Twilight Zone“) as a 1957 teleplay, Serling lays out for us the extremes that people will go in furthering their own lives, all the while squeezing out every last ounce of dignity from others. Mountain, a tender giant from Tennessee, who at one time was ranked 5th in the world, finds himself unemployed after 14-years of boxing. The play begins during Mountain’s final fight, a startlingly brutal confrontation, blood and sweat flying off him as he is barraged with punch after punch by the soon-to-be victor. His eyes and face beaten to a pulp (with severe disfiguration from years of fighting), the doctor rules that this will be his last fight, as any more damage to his eyes could leave him blind. Feeling indebted to his manager, Maish (Bill Bannon), Mountain finds himself at an employment office, where he meets with job counselor Grace (Paula Stevens), who takes him under her wing, determined to find him a job. This scene involving Mountain and Grace is a marvel to behold, as Mountain clumsily blurts out that – once people see his disfigured face – nobody is willing to hire him. Though Grace sets him up with a job working as a camp counselor, his manager Maish has other plans for him, booking him into the humiliating realm of professional wrestling, posing as an Appalachian Davey Crockett, complete with coonskin hat and long-johns. We are left at the end with deep sympathy for Mountain, while holding inside a glimmer of hope that his life will someday get better.

Strengths: Director Lou Contey has outdone himself with his vision and execution of this glorious story – the ensemble is dead-on in the depictions of their characters. Along with Sean Sullivan, Bill Bannon and Paula Stevens, praise must also be given to the rest of the cast – Brian McCartney, Scott Aiello, and Jamie Vann. The production looks great – with a superbly-adaptable set designed by Kevin Hagan.

Reservations: Though there is little here not to love, the final scene becomes a bit preachy, as Mountain spells out what he is doing and why. Though Mountain is an honorable character, he’s not the type that’s eloquent enough to package his actions so succinctly.

Summary: In Requiem for a Heavyweight, Shattered Globe presents us with a perfect example of the kind of ensemble theatre Chicago is known for: gritty, raw and vulnerable, all wrapped inside a small intimate theatre space. It will be hard to experience a better performance than that of Sean Sullivan, who brings the empathetic audience to tears, as he succumbs to the realization that he has been used and then tossed aside by all those in his life whom he thought were looking out for him. This play is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Rating: ««««

January 14, 2008 | 1 Comment More

Sunday Night Sondheim – “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”

Hey Bobby – “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”!!!

January 13, 2008 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW – “Good Boys and True” at Steppenwolf

Brandon Hardy shares a vulnerable moment with his mother ElizabethThe world-premier of Good Boys and True, now playing at Steppenwolf Theatre, starts out benign enough – the athletically handsome and privileged Brandon Hardy (earnestly played by the talented Stephen Grush) is giving a tour of his school, the elitist St. Joe’s Prep in Washington, D.C.  He points out the postcard-perfect school campus, and revels in the regurgitation of the school’s historical traditions, academic status and scholastic prowess.  We soon find out, however, that there is nothing benign about Brandon Hardy’s world.  Indeed, a tense and ominous malignancy slowly emerges, one that involves deep emotional wounds kept covered for over 20 years – wounds involving sexual abuse and manipulation.  And as this occurs, Brandon’s introspective mother Elizabeth (Martha Lavey – who is also Steppenwolf’s artistic director.) sees her family, and hence her world, crumble around her.  Good Boys and True, in the end, relays in a powerful way the tragic abuse of power by those drunk with hubris. Strengths: Top-notch acting, most notably in a poignant scene involving a meeting between the mother and the maligned lower-class high-school girl, Cheryl Moody (Kelly O’Sullivan).   Special mention also must be made to Tim Rock playing Brandon’s best friend and clandestine boyfriend.  Director Pam MacKinnon has done an excellent job bringing out many character nuances, especially as much of the dialogue is terse. 

Reservations: It’s understandable what playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is attempting – working the play around the relationship between Mother and son.  But this leaves a gaping emotional fissure in that the main protagonist is never seen on stage.  It is the father who is the most powerful and antagonistic of all of the characters; the root cause of the Hardy family’s choking dysfunction.  Yet Mr. Hardy is never seen.  And in keeping the father off-stage, Auirre-Sacase deprives us – and the play – of potentially implosive scenes and character development.

Summary: Even with its shortfalls, Good Boys and True remains a haunting and jarring piece of theatre.  Director MacKinnon has paced the ensemble well, as secret after tragic secret is uncovered.  Recommended.

Rating: ««« 

Related articles:

  • TimeOut Chicago – “Generation Next
  • YouTube interview with director Pam MacKinnon
  • Personnel and Show Times

    Playwright: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
    Director: Pam MacKinnon
    Sets: Todd Rosenthal
    Lights: Ann G. Wrightson
    Costumes: Nan Cibula-Jenkins
    Sound Design: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
    Dramaturg: Edward Sobel
    Asst. Director: Jonathan Templeton
    Featuring: Martha Lavey   (Elizabeth Hardy)
    Stephen Louis Grush   (Brandon Hardy)
    Tim Rock   (Justin Simmons)
    John Procaccino   (Coach Shea)
    Kelli Simpkins (Maddy)
    Kelly O’Sullivan  (Cheryl Moody)
    Nick Horst, Mark Minton, Trevor Reusch   (Ensemble)
    Dates: Through February 16, 2008
    Show Times: Tuesday through Sunday, 7:30pmSaturday and Sunday matinees at 2pmAdditional matinees on January 23, 30, February 6 (Wednesdays)
January 13, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Chicago Tribune’s Top Plays of 2007

The SparrowOsage County setMerchant on Venice 1

springfarm1-small.jpgMerchant on Venice 2

In alphabetical order, here are the Chicago Tribune’s choices for the top 10 plays of 2007:
 

The Adding Machine
(Next Theatre – and soon Off-Broadway)

August: Osage County
(Steppenwolf – and now receiving rave reviews on Broadway)

Between Barack and a Hard Place
(Second City)

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow
(Collaboraction)

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
(Congo Square)

Merchant on Venice
(Silk Road Theatre Project)

Othello
(Writers Theatre)

Shenendoah
(Marriott Theatre)

The Sparrow
(House Theatre)

A Stead Rain
(Chicago Dramatists)

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

January 12, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Opening: Shattered Globe’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”.

One of my favorite Chicago theatre companies, Shattered Globe, continues their exciting 2007-2008 season with the tumultuous “Requiem for a Heavyweight” by Rod Serling; directed by Louis Contey. Opening night is Sunday, January 13th. (hat-tip to Karin McKie for providing the production info)

   

 011208-1942-shatteredgl1.jpgRequiem 3

   
WHAT: Shattered Globe Theatre will present “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” by Rod Serling and directed by Louis Contey.  In this 1956 drama, washed-up prizefighter Harlan “Mountain” McClintock faces the sudden end of his career. Having spent 14 years in the ring, Mountain faces the prospect of a life that does not include boxing and discovers that the skills that almost made him a champion don’t count for much in the wider world. Mountain is torn between the possibility of new love and a promising future offered by social worker Grace, and loyalty to his self-serving manager Maish, who wants to exploit the fighter on the lucrative professional wrestling circuit. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sports dramas of all time, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” is a gut-wrenching account of the merciless prizefight game and the human wreckage it leaves in its wake. 
   
WHERE: Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. (map)
   
WHEN: Opens Sunday, January 13th (3pm) through March 8th (Saturday). Complete schedule here.
   
TIX: Call box-office at 773-871-3000, or order online. Reduced tickets at HotTix (when available).
   
CAST: Scott Aiello (Leo), Bill Bannon (Maish), David Bendena (Greeny), Don Blair (Doctor and Charlie), Craig Degel (Morrell, Thug), Mike Falevitz (young boxer and photographer), Brian McCartney (Army), Paula Stevens (Grace), Sean Sullivan (“Mountain” McClintock), and Jamie Vann (Perelli).
   
STAFF: Kevin Hagan (Production Manager and Scenic Design), Brian McCaskill (Co-Producer), Eileen Niccolai (Co-Producer), Danielle Boyke (Stage Manager), Lou Contey (Director), Mike Durst (Lighting Design), Cybele Moon (Costume Design) and Mike Tutaj (Sound Design).
   
FUNDERS: Alphawood Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Robert J. and Loretta W. Cooney Foundation, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a CityArts I grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, the Mid-North Association and Much Shelist.

January 11, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Just saw the movie “Sweeney Todd” – loved it!!

Hey all – I just saw “Sweeney Todd” at the theater in Evanston and really enjoyed it – even more than I thought I would (though didn’t expect all the TONS of blood).  What did you think about it?  I’ll no doubt say a few more things about it, but right now I need to go to bed.  In the meantime, here’s a trailer from the movie:

January 11, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Chris Jones’ Best-of-2007

Chris Jones, theatre-critic extraordinaire, announces his picks for the top plays and performances of 2007.  (fyi: I have no idea why this woman’s face is the picture of the video – she is not in any part of the actual video. Does anyone know who she is – and why she is?)

January 9, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Sunday Night Sondheim – “I Remember Sky”

Sunday Night Sondheim – “I Remember Sky”

January 6, 2008 | 0 Comments More