Lincoln Center Theater has delivered a one-two punch in its gritty, powerful and sterling 75th anniversary revival of GOLDEN BOY by Clifford Odets now playing at the Belasco Theatre where it originally opened to rave reviews produced by The Group Theatre in 1937 and later made into a movie starring William Holden as Joe Bonaparte.
Seth Numrich has inherited the role and is wonderful as the 21 year old Italian violin virtuoso who decides that being a boxer will bring him the fame and fortune he so desires, leaving his God given talent behind much to the sadness of his devoted father played beautifully and touchingly by Tony Shalhoub.
Master director Bartlett Sher has cast his nineteen actors perfectly and his creative team (Sets – Michael Yeargan, Costumes – Catherine Zuber and Lighting (Donald Holder) has brought to stark life the look of the troubled thirties in a noir B film – with the tenement buildings dwarfing the characters trying to make a go of it in the boxing ring called life.
Mr. Numrich is an eager beaver and will do anything to convince manager Tom Moody (the excellent Danny Mastrogiorgio) to let him fight. Fighting is what he needs to do. Fighting is what propels the drama to its tragic end.
As Tom verbally spars with his mistress Lorna Moon (the extraordinary Yvonne Strahovski – a combination of Joan Blondell and Veronica Lake) – “a tramp from Newark” Joe enters their lives and immediately falls for Lorna – just to complicate things a bit more. She too has choices to make and is as torn as Joe is as to what direction to follow.
Over the course of three acts we see the development of Joe’s career – from “cockeyed wonder” to just plain cocky, his growing stature and ability to afford an expensive car – a Duesenberg, his involvement with Eddie Fuseli (an intense Anthony Crivello) a mobster who buys a piece of Joe and has a penchant for being well dressed and perhaps young men, and the love relationship between Joe and Lorna, Lorna and Tom and Joe and his father. A father who spends his hard earned money on a special violin for Joe that is heartbreakingly laid aside.
All of the supporting cast members are superb. Especially Danny Burstein as Joe’s trainer Tokio, Jonathan Hadary – a Jewish neighbor/philosopher Mr. Carp who adds a touch of humor (in fact Mr. Odets was very funny and caustic when not dealing in the larger picture of choosing one’s course in life) and a very special charismatic Michael Aronov as Joe’s cab driving brother, Siggie who along with his wife Anna – (Dagmara Dominczyk) add spice to the family at home scenes.
If the play itself has moments that are tarnished the dialogue still resonates profoundly and the acting more than makes up for any odd moments – like the off stage playing of the infamous violin and the lethargic scene changes.
You can almost smell the sweat in the beautifully staged gym locker room scenes as we hear the roar of the crowd above witnessing the prize fights.
Some say to follow your passion, your dreams and you will be successful and the money will follow. But young Joe had two passions (actually three if you include Lorna) and chose to follow, in this case, the wrong fork in the road he traveled on.
GOLDEN BOY is a great theatrical experience and might just bring back vintage Fedora hats.
www.LCT.org Photos: Paul Kolnik
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