Gail Golden Reviews

Theatre Review: ‘Golden Boy’ at Irish Classical Theatre

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Anthony Alcocer and Cassie Cameron in “Golden Boy” at Irish Classical Theatre. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The Curtain Up production at the Irish Classical Theatre is “Golden Boy,” an American drama written by Clifford Odets in 1937. Odets was a member of the Group Theatre, a company that was dedicated to realistic theatrical presentations of socially relevant plays. By the late 1930’s, however, the Group had fallen on hard times financially and Odets wrote “Golden Boy,” not as a political statement, but as a means to finance the company. Odets succeeded, and “Golden Boy” was the Group’s biggest financial hit. It has continued to score well over the years with a film version  starring William Holden, several Broadway revivals, and a musical starring Sammy Davis Jr. Interestingly, the musical added a controversial social justice issue — an interracial romance, making the the musical version of “Golden Boy” more of a typical Group play.

. . .a solid production of a classic American work. . .

“Golden Boy” is the story of a young man who has to choose between his art and commercial success. Should he dedicate his life to playing the violin or should he give prize fighting, and all its attendant creature comforts, his all?  

Anthony Alcocer is brash and dynamic as Joe Bonaparte, the prize fighter, and Cassie Cameron is sweet and lovely as his romantic interest, Lorna Moon.  One wishes, however, that Ms. Cameron was a bit less of a sympathetic waif and more of a hard-edged tart who starts off seducing Joe but eventually softens. Likewise, although Mr. Alcocer’s performance certainly holds our attention, the line between the idealistic boy at the beginning of the play and the hard-bitten fighter who he becomes is a little blurred — this Joe is primarily a breathless ball of energy from start to finish.

Arin Lee Dandes is delightfully amusing as Joe’s sister, and Rolando Martin Gomez is wonderful as Joe’s father, giving a dignified and heartfelt performance. He’s a standout! Eric Rawski is marvelously creepy, but never over the top, as Joe’s “owner.”

The most interesting work of the evening is by David Lundy who plays Joe’s coach. Mr. Lundy gives a nuanced performance. He’s resisted the temptation to become a stereotype and instead offers a totally realistic, three dimensional portrait. This is the approach that the Group Theatre advocated. Less is more in an Odets play, and Mr. Lundy hits the mark!

Rounding out the large and strong cast are Steve Jakiel as the father’s philosophical friend, Adam Yellen as Joe’s economically fixated brother-the-law, David Autovino as Joe’s hard-working and down to earth brother, Christian Brandjes as Tom who is a powerhouse of a manager, Jeffrey Coyle as the manager’s quirky sidekick, and, in smaller roles, Gabriel Robere, David C. Mitchell, and Gerry Maher.

Direction by Fortunato Pezzimenti is a little heavy-handed which slows down the proceedings. There is a tendency to play the scenes melodramatically, instead of naturalistically, which was the playwright’s intent. The energy level is good throughout the production, however, and there’s a scene in Act 2 with Tom, Lorna, Eddie, and Joe that really sizzles.

There is some exceptional music design by Tom Makar including wailing horns and a haunting carousel. Background music volume needs be adjusted, occasionally, because it was hard to hear the actors.

This is a solid production of a classic American work that hasn’t been performed in Western New York for many years. It’s a treat to see this respectful production of a Clifford Odets play.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10 minute intermissions.

“Golden Boy” runs until October 7, 2018 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.