``Applaud us not for what you think of the production but for the effort put forth,'' begged one of the artistic directors in his program notes.
Such special pleading has no place in professional theatre, where misdirected effort or lack of talent is no excuse for falling short. The good news about this company is that the efforts poured into its Spartan first production, which was prepared as intricately as a good string quartet, produced a splendid debut.
The play was a kind of Changing Room (with back-al nudity), recounting the locker-room relationship between a brutish fellow and the amateur boxer he serves as manager. The authors continually telegraphed what appeared to be the play's hidden subject matter (repressed homosexuality) and conclusion (one character unmasked), then thoroughly confounded the audience with a surprise denouement that was shrewdly prepared and totally unexpected -- although it was neither particularly edifying, credible, nor politically correct. But without the skillful collusion of the actors this sleight-of-hand could never have come off.
Charles Krueger as the fighter seemed somewhat daunted at first by the play's technical problems: the provincial, Southern English lingo, which he managed pretty well, and the persona of a young Turk screwing up his courage to fight. By means of athletic exercises, the character's physical life took over the emotions, to end the play with a knock-out punch that stunned the audience into empathy.
David Volin, who looked and acted uncannily like Bob Hoskins, was wonderful throughout, pretending he was someone who pretended he was someone he was not. His accent seemed so authentic that it was no more possible to understand 100 percent of what he said than to understand expressions like ``sus it out,'' which seem obvious but really aren't. The audience probably got 80 percent of the lines from either character; but as with Italian opera, the music of the language, which was rhythmically -- almost surreally -- poetic at times, and probably based on the ``language'' of boxers' dancing movements, took over. They got the idea and didn't need the subtitles.
The director must have whipped the actors into frenzies to theatricalize the play and its minimal set with practically no technical assistance. Nevertheless, he got the jump ropes whirring, the rolls of wrapping tape thrown out, and created not only a Greek chorus effect, but an Off-Off-Broadway chorus line of two.
The costumes and equipment seemed well-researched, providing just enough to cancel the audience's disbelief. Similarly, Gabrielle Corsaro found subtleties through which to light the stage with just five instruments. Other than a nice integration of music and action as the play began, there were no sound effects.
The play was not always easy or pleasant to watch; but it was a success, well worth the applause.
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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